Missouri project begins third year checking black bears

Friday, May 25, 2012 | 10:45 a.m. CDT; updated 2:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 25, 2012
A black bear regains consciousness after being tranquilized as part of a three-year study of the species' growing population in Missouri.

SEYMOUR — Wildlife cameras and hair snare traps are set across Missouri, as scientists with the Missouri Department of Conservation begin the third year of counting and studying a growing black bear population.

The scientists trap the bears using barrels filled with stale doughnuts and honey-laced dog food. The animals are sedated so researchers can attach a collar with a GPS and VHF transmitter. The animals also are weighed, measured and have teeth and hair pulled for further studies.

In the last two years, 108 bears have been collared by scientists with the project. It's unclear how many more bears live in the state, The Kansas City Star reported .

DNA genotyping can trace a bear's lineage from Arkansas or Canada and the project teams have also discovered a true Missouri native bear population.

Conservation resource scientist Jeff Beringer said the bears, which were once considered extinct in Missouri since the 1940s, had instead retreated deep into forests, parks and private acreage.

"They never left," he said.

The research already has discovered that female bears stay within a 30-mile radius; males, which can grow to 900 pounds, sometimes travel hundreds of miles. The bears have been found in 23 counties in southern Missouri.

On the Black Bear Project website, a map shows the bears have moved north through the Ozarks nearly to St. Louis. Beringer said he wouldn't be surprised to hear a bear was spotted near Kansas City.

Black bears are shy around humans and Beringer wants them to stay that way, warning that "A fed bear is a dead bear. Don't feed them. Keep them wild."

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