Oldest bear ever handled in state put down recently
When Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Kevin Wenner told me
the age of a black bear that had to be put down in Carbon County
last week, I asked him to repeat it.
Wenner said the female bear was 35 years old. That means it was
born in 1976 when Gerald Ford was president and went on to live
through the terms of six more presidents.
And there are other astonishing things about the Carbon County
bear that lived through four decades.
During all that time, it was only captured twice by the Game
Commission. The first time was in 1982 when it was originally
tagged and a tooth was extracted that showed it was six years old,
and again in 1992 when the bruin was 16.
Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent, who has worked with
bears for more than 20 years and has almost seen it all, was
surprised that the Carbon County bear lived to a ripe old age and
He said the bear – which likely had lost all its teeth in
addition to its mobility during its old age, was the oldest bruin
ever handled in Pennsylvania.
The age is accurate, Ternent said, because in 1982 when a tooth
was pulled the bear was young. It’s easy to age the tooth from a
young bear and such results are 100 percent accurate, Ternent
The process is similar to counting the rings in a tree. The
rings in a young tree are vivid and easy to count, while an older
tree has rings that are less discernible.
The commission has aged over 80,000 bear teeth in the last 30
years, and only a few topped the 30-year mark. There was one bear
that was aged at 34 years, 11 months, Ternent said, but none have
ever topped the 35-year mark.
“This bear is a rare case,” Ternent said. “If a bear in the wild
makes it to the early teens, it’s really lucky.”
And if it makes it into its mid-thirties, it’s almost
Like Ternent, Wenner also was shocked at the finding.
“I’ve handled sows that were 18 and 21, but this is easily the
oldest bear I’ve ever heard of,” Wenner said.
There are other aspects about the Carbon County bear that make
Aside from the fact that the bear couldn’t stand up, it weighed
a robust 275 pounds, which is quite large for a female black
Ternent said the bear was able to maintain its weight partly due
to its hardiness and the abundance of easy food sources in the
Poconos, such as garbage cans and birdfeeders.
Surprising to Wenner was the fact that the bear was only
captured twice in 35 years despite living in a suburban area where
conflicts between bruins and people are common.
The bear lived through 35 hunting seasons and avoided being
struck by a vehicle on the nearby turnpike. Simply amazing.
And even though it was only captured by the Game Commission
twice in its long life, the bear wasn’t a complete stranger to the
According to Wenner, the commission’s Northeast Region Office
had gotten several calls over the last few months about the bear
laying in yards unable to move. But each time an officer responded,
the bear got up and left the area.
Last week, he said, the bear was unable to stand so the decision
was made to dispatch it.
It’s a sad end for such a unique bear that defied the odds on
many levels, but one that’s understandable considering it couldn’t
walk. Still, the fact that the bear was able to survive so many
threats throughout its long life – only to succumb to the perils of
old age, is an admirable way to go.