‘Black bear gone wild’ in Bureau County not so wild after all

Neponset, Ill. – A black bear captured in February in Bureau
County probably was not wild, wildlife officials now suspect.

DNR conservation police officers captured the 200-pound creature
Feb. 4 after receiving a report it was sleeping in a field beneath
brush and branches in western Bureau County. The animal, which was
in semi-hibernation, was tranquilized and taken to a licensed
wildlife menagerie in southern Illinois.

There had been several sightings of the 3-year-old male bear in
Bureau County since June, with a couple of witnesses snapping
photos.

CPO Capt. Greg Hunter said the bear is doing well and is
comfortable with people, one indication the bear was not wild.

“We’re very certain it had been a captive, reared bear. Wild
black bears generally don’t approach people, but this one is
friendly. The only sightings had been in a 10-mile area in Bureau
County, so it probably came from the county.”

Hunter added another clue the bear had escaped or been released
from human custody were the questions that if the bear had migrated
to the county, why did it stay there and not keep moving? Why
wasn’t it seen in other counties as it lumbered its way to Bureau
County?

Hunter said the bear probably ate mulberries, acorns and rodents
while it was on the loose, but once was seen at a garbage dump in
Sheffield.

A fur sample was taken for DNA analysis. The main worry was not
that the bear would harm humans, but a human would hurt the bear,
Hunter pointed out.

Illinois currently has no management provisions for bears in its
wildlife code because they’re considered an extirpated species,
like cougars and wolves – both which have spotted in Illinois in
recent months.

Hunter said the Bureau County State’s Attorney’s Office planned
to charge anyone who harmed the Bureau County bear before its
capture.

The most recent case involving a bear was in 1995, when one
wandered Hamilton and Jefferson counties.

Despite his certainty about the domestic origins of the bear,
Hunter believes wild bears eventually will come to central Illinois
as they get squeezed from their current grounds elsewhere.

Historically, populations of black bears still existed in
Illinois in the mid-1800s.

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