Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Sometimes a black bear is not at all black …

Tom VeneskyThe bear that Wildlife Conservation Officer Dave Allen live-trapped last month in Conyngham Township, Luzerne County, is so rare that the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bear biologist has only handled two in 12 years.

Out of the several thousand bears harvested each hunting season, only two or three are similar to the one Allen trapped.

Making the situation even more unique, Allen believes there is another bear just like it roaming the same area.

Responding to a complaint of a bear raiding blueberry bushes, Allen set a live trap at the location near Route 239. After a few days he caught the culprit – a brown-phase black bear. The brown phase is one of four color variations found in black bears, and within the phase there is even more variety.

Game Commission black bear biologist Mark Ternent said brown-phase black bears can have coats that are blond, red, chocolate or cinnamon. Allen’s bear was the latter.

“In the Western states, the brown phase may represent over 70 percent of the black bear population,” Ternent said. “But it’s rare to have a cinnamon bear at all in Pennsylvania.”

Allen said the bear, a young female weighing 185 pounds, was live-trapped after it was spotted raiding a farmer’s blueberry bushes. The bear was relocated on a state game land in the Mountain Top area.

Based on reports and photos from residents in the area of Conyngham Township, Allen believes there is a second cinnamon bear in the locale. The second bear, he said, appears much larger than the one he trapped and is more blond in color.

I've spotted a cinnamon bear in the area last year. It was a large bear, approximately 250 pounds, and had a beautiful blondish-cinnamon coat. My hunch is that there were indeed two cinnamon bears in the same area.

If that was the case, Ternent said such an occurrence is highly uncommon but not entirely surprising. An area of Lycoming County, he said, produces multiple cinnamon bears with some regularity.

“Any cinnamon-phase bear is uncommon, but when they do show up it tends to be in clusters,” Ternent said. “It’s like a little genetic pocket that keeps the trait in that particular area.”

Still, Ternent has handled approximately 150 live bears annually for the last 12 years in Pennsylvania and only two have been brown-phase. He said the color variation is similar to the occurrence of black-phase gray squirrels, but it’s not related to albino deer because color isn’t lacking from the fur.

Aside from the unusual color variation, pink lips and nose, Ternent said a brown-phase bear is no different from any other bruin.

Just a bit more uncommon.

“It’s unique, it’s rare, but other than that it’s the same as any other black bear,” he said.

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