By Joseph Pratt
Friday was orientation day for incoming freshman at Shawnee State University (SSU) and the school had an early and unexpected guest that forgot to RSVP, a bear cub. No, it wasn’t Shawn E. Bear, the university mascot, or a publicity stunt by the school; it was a live, wild bear that, ironically, found its way onto campus.
A fleet of emergency vehicles barricaded the 1200 block of Fourth Street, in Portsmouth, for nearly two hours, as officers determined what to do with a wild bear cub that found his way onto campus, and then into a tree.
An officer with Shawnee State University was patrolling the area, when she witnessed the young bear cub walking campus around 4 a.m.
“The bear ran, bounced off the doors of the CLC (Children’s Learning Center), then headed northbound between houses,” David Thoroughman, director of Public Safety at SSU, said. “He then climbed up the tree.”
Thoroughman said that the bear remained in the tree for many hours and acted content, while more and more officers gathered to secure the premises.
“This may be the first for us – even though we are the ‘home of the bears,’” SSU President Rita Rice Morris, said. “While we’ve had some fun with the fact that our mascot is Shawn E. Bear, our staff took the situation and the safety of campus very seriously. Our Department of Public Safety responded quickly, working with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Portsmouth Police Department, and I want to thank them – and all who helped us distribute our alerts to keep people away from the area while officials attempted to remove the bear.”
Police contacted the Ohio Division of Natural Resources (ODNR), out of Columbus, to seek help on this issue, when they found it was too much to bear on their own.
Officers were debating options on how to get the bear out of the tree, while they waited for the wildlife officer. One State Trooper suggested honey buns.
Around the time wildlife officers responded, the bear had gotten down from the tree and made its way back across campus, over the levy and was last seen crossing the Ohio River.
“We can assume that, because the bear crossed the river in a hurry, he came from that direction,” District Four Wildlife Management Supervisor Jim Hill said. “We do have some resident bears here in Ohio though. So, whether it was an Ohio bear that is now roaming the countryside or a neighboring bear, those would all be possibilities.”
Hill said that young bears tend to travel and can go as far as 50 miles in a day to find a settlement. So, chances are, the bear won’t be returning to class at Shawnee.
“When bears end up in an urban situation, which it sounds like this was, the first issue is addressing public safety and crowd control,” Hill said. “Getting a perimeter set up is the first step, followed by trying to afford the bear a safe exit route to escort it out of town.”
Hill said that bear cub sightings aren’t rare in the early summer months in our location
“Typically, what we will see in the next couple months will be young bears, usually male, roaming the countryside that are trying to find a place to settle down, if you will. Just like teenagers, they’re trying to figure it out,” Hill explained. “Sometimes they wander into unsafe or populated locations.”
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.