Black bear seen locally, public urged to avoid interactions

Published 7:00 am Friday, June 8, 2018

With the number of Louisiana black bears increasing in Mississippi, there are several steps that should be taken when a wild bear is encountered.

On Friday, June 1, Picayune native Annabeth Breland posted a video to Facebook of a black bear running into the woods just off East Canal Street in Picayune.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I was driving into work one morning and I took East Canal Street and right there by the auto shop it was right there by the road,” Breland said.

She said she saw it by the road and since she was driving she couldn’t pull her phone out in time to take a video. Curious, she turned around and passed the area again, this time getting a shot of the bear running into the woods.

“I thought it was a dog at first. He turned and looked at me and I realized it wasn’t a dog,” Breland said.

She said she has lived in Picayune for 17 years and has never seen a bear in the area.

According to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks website, black bears typically become more active in late spring and early summer. That’s because this time of year is the beginning of the breeding season and because young male bears leave their mothers to find new territories, among other reasons, the website states.

While there are several subspecies of black bears, the most common found in south Mississippi are Louisiana black bears. According to the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service’s website, while they were once federally threatened, Louisiana black bear numbers have since increased, leading to their protected status being revoked in 2016.

Because of their increasing numbers, more of the animals have begun to wander into Mississippi, the MDWFP website states. Pearl River County is listed as having “frequent” black bear sightings.

“Bear sightings in Mississippi have been on the rise in the last few years, especially during the early summer when yearling bears are dispersing to establish a home range and breeding season for the adult bears occurs,” the website states.

While bear attacks are uncommon, with their numbers on the rise, the risk of coming into contact with a black bear increases.

“Although rare, attacks on humans have occurred, inflicting serious injuries and death. Each bear and each experience is unique; there is no single strategy that will work in all situations and that guarantees safety,” an article by the National Parks Service states.

There are still steps that can increase the chance of avoiding injury if an interaction with a bear occurs. If a wild bear interaction occurs, the article suggests talking calmly to it. Don’t immediately try to walk away, instead a person should  wave their arms slowly. The article states that these actions will show a bear that the individual is human and not prey.

It is important to stay calm and avoid startling the animal by screaming or making sudden, loud noises. It is also a good idea to hike in groups, since bears are more likely to avoid a larger number of people, the article states.

In case an attack with a black bear does occur, don’t try to play dead. Instead, try to hide in a car or building. If there isn’t a place to go, the article suggests fighting back – focusing the attack on the bear’s face and nose.

The best way to avoid an attack, however, is to avoid an encounter with a bear altogether. Don’t feed bears or leave food in a place that would attract them and stay away from places with high bear populations, the article states.

“Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are some of the most important things you can do. Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes,” the article states.