Caution needed around wild bears

Monday, July 17, 2006
Photo by Eric Drosser

LITTLE ROCK -- A bear attack in the Ouachita Mountains of Polk County has heightened awareness of the need for caution when camping in the wilds of Arkansas. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reminds everyone that bears are wild animals and should remain that way.

According to reports, a black bear attacked a 23-month-old boy in his family's tent at the Shady Lake Recreation Area in the Ouachita National Forest late Tuesday afternoon. The boy was not seriously injured, although he had scrapes and marks on an arm.

The bear apparently was attracted to the campground by food scraps that were found near the tent. A pile of charcoal with what appeared to be grease from food was about three yards from the tent.

The bear was scavenging through the pile of charcoal just before the attack occurred, according to reports from campers in the area. AGFC biologists will euthanize the bear when caught.

The attack was very unusual for a black bear in Arkansas, according to Rick Eastridge, AGFC bear program coordinator. "This has been a slow year for nuisance bear complaints in Arkansas," Eastridge said. "We just haven't had the calls like in past years."

Black bears typically eat vegetation. "They normally are looking for things such as blackberries, blueberries, cherries, ants or grubs," Eastridge said. "The bear just saw an opportunity with the food scraps and drippings and apparently one thing led to another."

Eastridge pointed out that people trigger most bear problems in Arkansas. "It appears that this bear had all the characteristics of a bear that had been around people and had lost its fear of humans. Bears under those conditions become habituated to people and may become dangerous."

Eastridge said this was a good lesson for people to learn about feeding wild animals. "Feeding of bears, whether on purpose or not, will result in a bear becoming more aggressive toward humans. In this case, it was fortunate that the injury was not life threatening. As for the bear having to be euthanized, we have to be concerned that this habituated bear may injure someone else."

The AGFC and other state and federal agencies that manage bears know from experience that euthanizing this black bear is the correct decision, said David Goad, AGFC deputy director.

"To release a bear with such tendencies would be irresponsible upon the part of the AGFC," said Goad, a former AGFC bear biologist. "There just aren't any places in Arkansas that are large enough for a bear to be released and not be back around people in a few hours. Decisions to euthanize wildlife are the result of a great deal of research and discussion by the AGFC and its personnel."

The USDA Forest Service has closed the campground while AGFC personnel attempt to capture the bear. For more information on the campground, contact C.J. Norvell at (918) 567-2326.

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