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August 16, 2011 / philosophermouseofthehedge

Drought: Bears can’t bear it.

A desperate run for a stock tank meant the end for one 2 year old black bear in Kerr County, Texas.  Startled a human. Wrong place, wrong time. Only weighed about the same as a high school cheer leader – or a German shepherd dog. Underweight by about 40 pounds. Necropsy revealed a stomach full of wild hog hair. Not that this 103 pound little guy could take down a hog. Insects, fish, maybe, but not a hog. Looks like he’d been scavenging off hog carcasses left from wild hog eradication efforts. It’s been a rough year.

Bears’ question: where’s the rain? In a desperate search for food and water, black bears are venturing into human territories.

Bears used to be common in the Big Bend area. Mild weather meant bears didn’t hibernate and flourished until the 1940’s when hunting and trapping thinned the population. For the past 20 years, bears have been protected and were making a come back in Big Bend and the Chisos Mountains. Hunters dreamed of a bear hunting season someday. Not any more. Drought is hard on bears, too. Rangers are now warning people thin hungry bears are moving out of the mountains. They have been spotted dashing across parking lots and campgrounds in the Chisos Basin and along the road through Green Gulch up to the basin. There are some remaining juniper berries there.

The normally shy black bruin guys have no choice. Their landscape: grim and dry. Crispy. The drought has scorched underbrush, and wilted the normally dense forests of oaks, juniper, and pines where bears normally hide. None of the usual fare of madrone berries, acorns, or pine nuts to be found. Dry years in past meant nibbling prickly pear for food and water. Not even much of those available now. Streams and pools are dry. In other areas wild fire fighting efforts drained many stock tanks.

So what’s a bear to do?

That young black bear in Kerr County may have been on his own for the first time of his life. Mom probably ran him off as she had a younger cub to support. He’d been wandering for a while (although whether he really managed to travel over 150 miles from Mexico as some suggest is unclear) and ended up on a private game preserve, Las Catarinas Ranch. He rounded a corner and surprised a man hunting with his 2 dogs and a gun. J.A. Whittenburg V. said he felt threatened and said it got 20 feet from him. It made aggressive moves. (Hmmm. Small desperate bear. Loudly barking dogs possibly lunging at bear?)

Game Wardens took custody of the bear and are investigating as black bears are an endangered protected species. Kenny Lee, a game warden, stated to reporters “You’re only allowed to shoot them to protect your life or livestock. A mere sighting doesn’t constitute a threat.” Another expert, Mike Krueger, the Wildlife Division District Leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Edwards Plateau Region, said that there probably will be more bear sightings as black bears wander out of Mexico and West Texas to escape the drought. He adds that most bears roaming into this area of Texas are young males and not aggressive.

Bears are generally pretty shy unless a mother is with a cub. Park rangers recommend if encountering a black bear, the person should shout, make a lot of noise, make themselves as large as possible, and throw rocks in order to run the bear off. And always back away from a black bear – not run away from it. (With other bears, curl up and play dead). Excited barking dogs also generally frighten bears off. It’s hard to know about this particular incident. Suddenly seeing a bear early in the morning certainly would be a shock. And the animals are desperate. But he was the size of a large dog. Guess Whittenburg was just in game hunting mode that morning. They did reported the kill, rather than just burying it. It’s a class C misdemeanor, so probably a fine here.

In any case, best make lots of loud noises to warn any animal that a human’s in the area. Unfortunately that goes for city dwellers, too.

Hoping it rains soon.

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.

One Comment

  1. philosophermouseofthehedge / Aug 16 2011 9:31 pm

    Alpine, Texas. Very large black bear (400+ lbs) hit by vehicle on road and died.


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