Butler, Mo. – A black bear wandering north of typical Missouri bear haunts was spotted June 11 and 12 in Bates County, about 70 miles south of Kansas City. The bear has been reported during the past few weeks in Barton and Vernon counties.
On June 12, Lacey Cook spotted the bear in a field about eight miles southeast of Butler. Cook is a school teacher who studied wildlife management in college and has hunted black bears in Minnesota.
“He was just kind of walking back and forth, wandering around,” Cook said. “I think it’s pretty cool.”
Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Conservation Agent Justin Fogle found the bear’s tracks in Vernon County last week and citizens reported sightings. In Bates County, MDC Conservation Agent Donald Tiller said he received several reliable reports on June 11 and 12. The bear stopped traffic for a time on June 11 near Missouri 52 as people stopped to watch it.
Agents do not know the age of the bear or whether it is a male or female. Cook said the bear was fully grown but appeared to be a young one.
Bear sightings are uncommon in the prairie and farming region of west central Missouri. Most of the state’s black bears reside in forested and rural counties in the Ozarks farther south and east. Isolated cases of black bears wandering north have occurred in the past.
Most bears shy away from people and pose little threat to humans and livestock. They should not be fed. They’re always looking for their next meal and can become a nuisance or even a danger if fed. It is illegal to kill a black bear in Missouri unless protecting human life or personal property.
“The bear was pretty neat to see,” Cook said. “I hope everybody leaves it alone and lets it do its thing.”
Black bears are native to Missouri. But they were almost eliminated from the state after settlement in the 1800s and as habitat loss continued in the 1900s. Some bears returned to the state’s southern counties due to a re-introduction in Arkansas that began in the 1950s. Plus a recent black bear study by MDC has shown a small number of native bears may have survived in southern Missouri. In the past, biologists have estimated the state’s bear population at from 150 to 300 bears in scattered habitats. The current study will help develop a more accurate population estimate and give a better idea where most of the state’s reclusive bears live.
For more information on black bears, go to www.mdc.mo.gov.