‘Mystery’ bear killing happened 20 years ago|[01/31/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 31, 2008

The body of a bear found on the side of the road in Sharkey County about two weeks ago has led investigators down an unexpected trail leading to what biologist Brad Young calls a “happy ending.”

The corpse, which was spotted Jan. 14 by a motorist along a dirt road near Rolling Fork, turned out to be the prize from a Virginia bear hunt more than 20 years ago, according to a press release from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. The bear was presumably killed legally in Danville, Va., where black bears are plentiful and may legally be hunted during appropriate seasons, Young said.

“If it was legally harvested, then he wouldn’t be in violation,” he said.

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The full story behind the bear’s fate decades ago is hard to know completely, simply because the hunter has since died. However, there’s satisfaction in learning the body, initially believed to be a cub, wasn’t an illegal kill in the Lower Mississippi Delta where the species is making a slow comeback.

“The guy killed it because he was going to make a bear-skin rug,” Young said. “He kept it in a freezer and either forgot about it or didn’t do anything.”

The bear remained in the freezer at the hunter’s house — as the home passed through other family members — until the current homeowner, whose name wasn’t released, found the remains and took them from the freezer to the road side in August.

Young said, upon first sight, it was difficult to know for sure that it was a bear that was found. Although five months of exposure to weather, animals and decomposition had taken their toll, its skull and feet acted as determining factors. And, evidence of a bullet in the head began the investigation into who could have killed the animal, endangered and closely protected in Mississippi.

But, MDWFP and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have closed the case on the dead bear.

“Our officers did a good job and conducted a professional and thorough investigation,” said Steve Adcock, MDWFP chief of law enforcement. “We’re pleased to have this resolved and the case closed.”

Young, who monitors the movements of six bears with radio collars, said he, too, is happy with the way the case ended.

“It’s good. I’m glad we got to the bottom of it,” he said. “I’m glad it’s not one of our local bears. It’s a shame so much fuss was made over it, but at least it wasn’t a local bear.”

Mississippi is home to about 100 black bears. Killing a protected bear here could carry hefty fines and jail time.

The most recent case of a killed bear in Mississippi was in 2002, when Eric Wade Mobley of Grace was convicted of killing a black bear and dumping its remains at a hunting club in Issaquena County a year earlier. He was ordered by a judge to pay nearly $10,000, perform 20 hours of community service and was placed on a one-year probation that also prohibited him from hunting.