This summer has been a fun one here at Higher Calling as we have been on a three month long quest called “Summer of the Bear”.
The goal has been to raise awareness to bears and bear conservation around the world.
It started with reporting on greatly increased bear sightings in my home state of Texas and has seen us doing lots of giveaways including plush bears for kids and special edition Texas Bear Aware tokens.
This week ends our summer bear project and we’re doing it in a big way publishing this podcast I recorded with Jack Evans of Bear Trust International.
Listen to the show below as we talk about that organization’s great conservation education work.
Thanks to everyone who participated by sending emails, social media interaction, photos and videos.
The “Summer of the Bear” was a big success thanks to you.
Last Tuesday, me and my friends Todd and Annie Jurasek spent a full day exploring the mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Co.
We had built up quite the hunger, so before heading back to the lodge, we went to a barbecue restaurant we enjoyed the day before.
But at 8:30 it was closed.
We decided to pick up some fast food on the way back, so I pulled out of the parking lot and drove off.
Less than 200 yards away, I looked to the left and couldn’t believe my eyes.
A large black bear was sitting on top of a rock about 75 yards away.
“That’s just a statue,” Todd said as I ran out of our SUV with my camera.
“Maybe so, but I have to see,” I replied.
As I focused my camera, I was not sure if I had missed some sort of elaborate statue all of the times I had previously passed by this spot or was looking at an actual bear.
After all, it was dark and it was only lit by street lights from down the road.
As I adjusted my camera settings, the bear moved it’s head and I knew I was looking at something special.
Todd and Annie quickly joined me and we were astonished this large bear was sort of chilling on a rock on the side of the road in the neighborhood. Todd has just prayed for us to have a bear encounter and the Lord responded quickly.
2020 is our “Summer of the Bear”.
He hung out for another minute or so and then lumbered off the rock into the darkness.
Interesting Colorado Parks & Wildlife Department (CPWD) officials made this post this post on Thursday.
Tuesday a bear was seen walking near downtown Estes midday, around 12:30pm. Local LE officers were able to haze the bear away from downtown and it went up a tree near the Birch Ruins.
Wildlife Officer Rylands arrived on scene to assess the situation and help make sure people were not approaching the bear. Rylands asked the bear if it could please remain up in the tree and take a nap until nightfall when there would be less people and cars moving about. Thankfully the bear heeded his request and made itself comfortable on the branch.
CPWD officials posted a photo of the bear in a tree and it’s hard to tell if it’s the same one we saw the same day.
Either way it shows bears on highly adaptable animals and will move into area of human habitations.
If you encounter bears in these settings or in the woods, be careful not to approach or spook them and never feed bears. Obey all bear safety guidelines in parks and respect the fact these beautiful animals are potentially dangerous.
Summer 2020 is the “Summer of the Bear” here at Higher Calling Wildlife and this encounter was a personal highlight for me.
Author Michael Bond impacted several generations with his iconic “Paddington Bear” series.
Featuring a spectacled bear from South America, a species known little outside of its indigenous range, the books and animated features have done more to raise the profile of the species than anything.
They are the only South American bear species and are named for the light pattern on their face, neck and chest that in some individual resembles spectacles or eyeglasses.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Network, little is known about this elusive bear and while the mystery surrounding them may add to its mystique, it does little to further its conservation.
Lack of knowledge about these bears considerably compromises the conservation management for the species.
This rare, charismatic bear is highly endangered, primarily due to habitat fragmentation that has caused bears to lose access to critical feeding areas. Although this bear is generally found in humid, alpine cloud forests, Spectacled Bear Conservation (SBC) discovered a population of more than 65 bears in the low elevation dry forest, providing a unique opportunity to observe these bears in the wild.
SBC says spectacled bears are a vulnerable species seriously threatened by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and human-wildlife conflict.
The lack of knowledge about spectacled bears in the wild impacts our ability to make conservation decisions or plans. Spectacled bears are the only bear species in South America with potentially as few as 2,500 mature individuals remaining.
I have reached out to some researchers to get some in-depth information on the species we will hopefully be able to post soon. Until then, enjoy this introduction to the beautiful, enigmatic and endangered spectacled bear.
Bears & Others Carnivores, an edition of the iconic Wide World of Animals series was one of my favorite books growing up.
I would read it and gaze at the photos for hours while imagining encountering these creatures in the wild.
One photo, however, always made me chuckle a little.
It was a sloth bear, native to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal and it looked like someone gave a really bad poodle hair cut to a skinny black bear.
Sloth bears are indeed unusual with a shaggy black coat, long, curved claws, and a pale-colored “v’ or “y” pattern on their chest. These bears typically weigh between 200-300 pounds at adulthood and specialize in eating fruit, termites, and honeycombs.
The name sloth bear comes from the original western description of the species according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
The first valid scientific description of this species was by George Shaw in 1791. He called it Ursine bradypus, ursine meaning bearlike and bradypus meaning slow foot. Bradypus is also the genus of three species of sloth. At the time, Shaw thought that the bear was related to a sloth. Time and additional specimens eventually revealed the true taxonomic relationships, but the confusing common name remains.
Although the name implies the slow, chill nature of a sloth, these bears are anything but that.
There are more attacks from sloth bear any other bear species as they are easily agitated and live in a region where there are huge human populations moving in and out of their forest habitat.
In a 2018 study entitled Sloth Bear Attacks on Humans in Central India: Implications for Species Conservation researchers Singh, Sonone, and Dharaiya, noted an increase in sloth bear attacks in India.
Sloth bears are known for their aggressive and unpredictable behavior. More human fatalities and injuries have been attributed to sloth bear attacks than all recorded incidences of wildlife attacks in Buldhana Forest Division of Maharashtra, India. We interviewed 51 victims that were attacked by sloth bears between 2009-2017 to better understand the reasons for the attacks.
Thirty-four of the attacks (66.7%) resulted in serious injuries, and there were seven human mortalities (13.7%) reported. Most attacks occurred close to agricultural fields (66.7%) and during midday (1100–1400 hours).
More attacks (64.7%) occurred when a person was working or resting in the field, or retrieving water for the field followed by attacks while watching over grazing livestock (13.7%). Individuals aged 31 to 40 years (35.3%) were the most common victims of sloth bear attacks. Half of the attacks were during monsoon season (July to October, 51%) followed by summer (March to June, 35%) and winter (November to February, 14%). In 39% of cases, a single bear was involved while females with 2 cubs were found to be involved in 37% of attacks.
According to the International Union For Conservation Of Nature (IUCN), sloth bears population status is “vulnerable”, meaning they are not yet threatened or endangered but a variety of factors could change that quickly.
One of those factors is conflicts with people. It can be hard to get people behind an animal that attacks and sometimes kills people but it can be done especially when measures can be taken to greatly reduce incidents.
The odd sloth bear is not likely to become the symbol of any sports franchise or restaurant chain but they certainly deserve to be conserved and managed like all other bear species.
I still laugh a bit thinking about the photo of the extra poofy-haired sloth bear in my book as a kid but after learning more about them I wouldn’t want to laugh in their presence.
We will have more on that in a special report soon.
Until then my close friend and research partner Todd Jurasek got some incredible game camera videos of black bears in the Kiamichi Mountains in Southeastern Oklahoma, showing the Sooner State has a burgeoning bear population in some areas.
People in states that have had large bear populations for decades like Oregon, Montana, and Alaska understand these animals but all forest-loving Americans need to become bear aware and realize these apex animals are increasing in the southern and eastern portions of the country.
Enjoy these awesome clips. This is just the beginning of an epic summer of bear coverage from around the globe.
For the second time in less than a week, officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD have released a statement on increased bear activity in the state. The last one as reported here involved sightings in the Trans Pecos.
The new reports are from Northeast Texas along the Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana borders.
Since April, there has been an uptick in black bear sightings in Bowie, Grayson and Titus counties in northeast Texas. The bears are thought to originate from the neighboring states of Oklahoma and Arkansas, or possibly Louisiana, where resident bear populations are well established and expanding. As the numbers of this iconic species grows, dispersing black bears find their way across state lines into Texas, signaling the possibility of its eventual permanent return to our landscape.
“It is inspiring as a biologist to watch these animals make their return to Northeast Texas after being absent for a century or more,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologist, Penny Wilkerson.
“Bears do not generally pose a threat to pets or livestock. These critters are omnivores and are more interested in berries, grubs, and acorns than anything else,” Wilkerson said.
The last time TPWD sent out a press release regarding black bears was 2017 and there was another in 2016. Before that, the last release was in 2012.
For TPWD to send out two releases in a week shows there is a major change in bear activity and likely some kind of bear emphasis coming from the department.
The lack of activity in the woods, state parks, and wildlife management areas due to COVID-19 this spring has in my opinion given bears a little more leeway in the woods and emboldened the animals in areas where they have been lurking in the shadows for a number of years.
A recent report from just across the border in Oklahoma shows landowners frustrated with the amount of bear activity. And one of my research partners Todd Jurasek got numerous bears including a 400 plus pound bruin on video in the Kiamichi Mountains along the Texas-Oklahoma corridor.
I will be posting those videos soon along with a massive update on bear sightings by county in Texas.
“There has been a flurry of bear activity in the Trans-Pecos recently. Reports of black bears wandering into Fort Davis, Alpine, and Fort Stockton were received this past week on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, respectively,” said Michael Janis, TPWD Trans-Pecos District Leader.
Black bears are generally shy, reclusive creatures but there comes a point when populations grow when that can change.
There is no hunting pressure in Texas and Mexico so there is no reason to fear people. In these situations, they may begin approaching human habitations and dry conditions like west Texas is facing now will amplify the issue.
My concern is Texans are not bear aware.
To most encountering bears is something that might happen once-in-a-lifetime when they visit Yellowstone or in the Smoky Mountains.
And these Texas bears are not just in the Trans Pecos.
For more than a decade I have recorded sightings in the Hill Country, South Texas, and along the Middle Coast. The East Texas bear population is a different issue and we will touch more on that next week but there are increasing sightings in the eastern third of the state as well.
Texans need to understand a few things about these unexpected inhabitants of its wildlands.
The following is from TPWD.
Bears have an excellent sense of smell and much of their behavior is driven by their appetite. These natural characteristics can, however, become a problem when bears find an easy meal from a human-related source such as garbage, pet food or corn from a deer feeder. If over time a bear continually finds food around humans, it can become habituated, losing its fear of people and creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Fellow hunters, we are now in the off-season. If you have a bear hitting a feeder, a good option is to shut it down and let the bear move on. Feeding in an area might keep the bear around and give you problems with your feeder (they’ll tear it up) or maybe an unwanted up close and personal encounter.
Another option is electricity.
Bears are sensitive to electricity however, so electric fences can be used to prevent bears from accessing feeders while still allowing deer to reach them because of their ability to jump the fence. Although an added cost, electric fencing can pay for itself in the prevention of lost feed and damage to a feeder.
TPWD biologists say education is the best way to prevent human-bear conflicts
Residents in areas where bears have been spotted should secure anything that could be a potential attractant (e.g. garbage, pet food, bird and deer feeders, etc.). Residents can also choose to invest in bear proof garbage dumpsters, a recourse that many communities in the western U.S. have deployed to reduce or prevent bear encounters. Double-bagging garbage to reduce odors and keeping bags in a secure location until the morning of trash pickup are also encouraged practices. Similarly, TPWD biologists recommend feeding pets inside or limiting pet food portions to an amount that can be consumed completely at each feeding.
Black bears are potentially dangerous animals. And while they are not likely to attack, their ferocity upon attack can be fatal.
In a story in the March/April 2020 edition of Sports Afield, I outlined a surprising study on black bear attack behavior.
A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management documents 63 people killed in 59 incidents by non-captive black bears between 1900-2009.
Here is the standout quote.
“We judged that the bear involved acted as a predator in 88 percent of fatal incidents. Adult or subadult male bears were involved in 92 percent of fatal predatory incidents, reflecting biological and behavioral differences between male and female bears. That most fatal black bear attacks were predatory and were carried out by one bear shows that females with young are not the most dangerous black bears.”
There are a couple of things that should jump out at outdoor lovers here.
If you are attacked by a black bear you must fight back. While many grizzly attacks are territorial or perhaps because the grizzly didn’t like you way you looked that day, most black bear attacks are predatory and nearly all of the fatal ones are. Play dead for grizzlies. Fight like crazy against a black bear.
Big male bears are the biggest threat. If you see one in an area or have game camera photos of one, take extra precautions.
Black bears are protected in Texas, so hunters should keep that in mind and especially when hunting hogs in areas with bear sightings at night. A bear could easily look like a hog hitting a bait pile especially if you are using night vision or thermal imaging.
Black bears returning to Texas is exciting but everyone needs to stay informed. I will continue coverage here as the great American bear returns to the Lone Star State and shows up in places where few expect to see them.
(TPWD is requesting bear sighting information. Click here to find a biologist in your area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to send bear photos and videos.)
Lake Falcon on the Texas/Mexico border is known for its huge largemouth bass and monstrous alligator garfish.
So, when 15-year-old Joseph Belcher and his uncle Sherman Pierce hit the water in mid-June 2020, they were focused on fish.
That is until they noticed something swimming across the lake.
Moving closer to investigate, they saw a black bear coming from the Mexican side and were able to capture footage of it mid-lake and were gracious enough to share it with Higher Calling. Thanks to Larry Belcher for making the connection.
Black bears are native to both Mexico and Texas.
Ursus americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and Texas, and over the last two decades, they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains and other areas.
Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Zapata County where this sighting took place.
A 2012 report shows another bear sighting in the county but this one was on dry land.
Ten years ago a hunter named Al Weaver sent me this photo from Bay City, TX on the north-central tier of the Texas Coast. I wrote about it in Texas Fish & Game in 2010.
Last year, I wrote this story, showing this individual had to take a pretty fantastic journey to end up where Weaver got the photo.
The tracks were so fresh I expected to see their maker appear at any second.
Nearly as wide as my two hands combined and nearly as long as my foot there was no doubt these were left by a very large black bear.
I kept my camera ready as any encounter would be up close and personal.
In a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in northern California, I was at a stretch of river where huge boulders lined the shores, creating a rugged maze.
It was wall to wall granite with the ground being a mix of smaller rock and sand.
The tracks that ended at a huge flat outcropping led me close to the river. The view was stunning and I took time to savor the moment but my quarry remained elusive.
An hour later I found myself a few hundred yards above this location.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught slight movement.
Through the binoculars what looked at first like a bush turned out to be a black bear standing as if something had caught its attention too.
I am not sure if it was the same bear whose tracks I had followed.
Perhaps it had caught scent I left behind but one thing is for sure. The chill that ran down my spine at that moment reminded me of why I pursue wildlife and on this occasion wildlife might have very well been pursuing me.
After all, I was in this majestic animal’s domain.
Ursus americanus is the most abundant bear on the planet with an estimated 600,000 scattered throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. They are a true wildlife conservation success story but not all is well.
Parts of their historic range are devoid of bear while some others are starting to see the first sign in decades.
My home state of Texas is a prime example.
Ursula americanus eremicus, the Mexican black bear, is protected from harvest in Mexico and over the last two decades they have been spilling into Texas from the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains.
Most of the population is centered around Big Bend National Park but there are verified bear sightings and road kills near Alpine and also as far east as Kerr County.
In fact, bear sightings in the Texas Hill Country have increased dramatically in recent years. One even paid fisheries biologists at the Heart of the Hills Hatchery near Ingram a visit-an area that hasn’t regularly had bear sightings in well over 100 years.