Endangered black bear found slain in Sharkey|[01/19/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2008

The body of a small black bear, apparently shot in the head and left along a dirt road, was discovered Monday by a m otorist in Sharkey County, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks said in a report made public Friday.

Officials from that agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started Tuesday trying to determine who shot the protected animal.

“It’s really bad that it happened in Rolling Fork — with all the support they’ve given for black bear preservation,” said MDWFP black bear biologist Brad Young.

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Sharkey County is home to the Delta National Forest, an area known for its black bear population. Rolling Fork also hosts a festival, called The Great Delta Bear Affair, an event that pays homage to President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous bear hunt that resulted in what is now the “teddy bear.” The affair also aims to increase awareness of bear preservation.

Officials were unable to determine the sex or age of the bear, which Young indicated had been there a while. In fact, knowing for sure it was a bear wasn’t a simple task.

“We identified it by its skull and its feet,” he said.

The bear was not one of the six bears that Young and his department have tagged with radio collars, used to track migration patterns. Of those tagged bears, three were tracked in the Delta National Forest when Young last did a fly over in December. He said two were in Issaquena County and one was in Washington County. Sharkey and Issaquena counties combined are suspected to have between 15 and 20 of the threatened species. About 100 are believed to be in various other parts of the state.

The bear’s death marks the second time in about seven years that a bear has been found killed in Mississippi, Young said. Eric Wade Mobley of Grace was convicted in 2002 of killing a black bear and dumping its remains at a hunting club in Issaquena County a year earlier. A forensics exam of the bear showed bullet fragments from the fatal shot. Because of his violation of the Lacey Act, a law that protects plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for an array of violations, Mobley was ordered by a judge to pay nearly $10,000. He was also ordered to perform 20 hours of community service and was placed on a one-year probation that also prohibited him from hunting.

The most recent incident remains under investigation, and no arrests have been made.

“I really want to catch the guy who did this,” Young said.

In November, black bear crossing signs were placed along U.S. 61 South near the Big Black River to serve as both a warning and a tool for awareness about the presence of black bears in the area. Other signs were posted along Mississippi 16 near Rolling Fork. More signs were planned to go up in areas where the bears are prevalent. The effort was spawned as part of an initiative of the Bear Education and Restoration Group of Mississippi, a group that sets out to educate and a provide viable population of black bears in the state.