Black bear spotted, photographed off 61 South|[6/25/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 27, 2005

Louisiana black bears are in Warren County, and Clinton resident John Fox – and his camera – can attest to it.

The UPS salesman was on his way from Vicksburg to Port Gibson on U.S. 61 South about a mile north of the Big Black River on June 2 when he saw a young bear, pulled off the four-lane highway, shot its picture and then shooed it to safety from approaching cars.

“I was driving down 61 and saw him coming out of the woods,” said the hunter and fisherman.

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“I had just heard at the Mississippi Department (of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’) Outdoor Show that there are bears in Mississippi, but you hardly ever see them,” he said. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘It’s a good thing I left my camera in the car.'”

Mississippi black bear biologist Brad Young, who has worked at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science for about three years, said he has had many calls of bears in Warren and Claiborne counties in recent months – together more than anywhere in the state.

“It’s just that time of year – between June and July is breeding season,” Young said.

About 50 have been documented in the state, with five or six believed to be in Warren County, he said.

The bear Fox saw, like others spotted around Warren County, is believed to have traveled from the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in Tallulah, which has the highest bear population of Louisiana black bears in the United States, said Stan Howarter, a black bear biologist with the refuge.

A swim across the Mississippi River is no problem for these rarely seen animals, that have been sighted here in Warren County now more than ever before.

“The Mississippi River doesn’t pose much of a challenge for a bear – even cubs swim in the river,” Young said.

Howarter said it’s likely that the bears swam the river into Warren County due to increasing populations at the refuge.

“They’re finding new habitat,” he said.

The bears typically feed on green vegetation, insects, carrion, berries, fruit and nuts. Black bears in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley include fish in their diet.

They are also looking for female companions, but Young said they’re out of luck. There are no known female bears living in the area.

“They disperse from their mother’s range – that’s the natural thing,” he said. “Finding a female, of course, would be a huge bonus, but it’s mainly to set up a home territory.” Even without females, he said, they usually will stay.

The Louisiana black bear was nearly eliminated by the early 20th century through destruction of bottomland hardwood forests and over-hunting.

Restrictions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service led to growth by the 1980s. In 1992, they were listed as threatened, and killing them became illegal. An illegal kill can mean a $100,000 fine and a year in jail, Young said.

Bears, of course, face dangers when they are near vehicles.

The one Fox saw walked up a hill by the highway and showed every intention of crossing.

“A car passed by him and I whistled and jumped up and down. After a few more cars whizzed by him, he decided to go back,” he said. “He made it down the hill and back in the woods pretty fast.”

Some bears haven’t been so lucky as to have a person scare them back into the woods, safe from road traffic, Young said.

“Last May, I had to pick up a dead bear by the Big Black,” he said. “He was killed by a car. The bear was a young, 170 pound very small male.”

Male bears typically grow to be about 310 pounds and about 3 feet tall, while female bears are smaller at about 140 pounds and just more than 2 feet tall.

Other bears have been reported near Redbone Road, Mississippi 3 and several have been seen near Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant, Young said.

The fact that there are bears in the area is no surprise to Young, but for people to actually see them is another story.

Howarter and Young advise to leave a bear alone if sighted.

“They are much more afraid of you than you are of it,” Young said.

He said he hopes to make a trip to Warren and Claiborne counties soon to place on the bears collars that account for their movements once an hour.

“We like to have bears collared in lots of areas,” he said.


If you see a bear, report the sighting by calling the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science at 601-354-7303.