By Joseph Pratt
The Portsmouth Police and the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office have confirmed bear sightings coming in through their emergency hotlines over the past few weeks. Reports and videos have also surfaced of the wild animal in Portsmouth and Sciotoville. Most recently, a video has surfaced online of a sighting in Sciotovilleand the Portsmouth Police pursued another case early Wednesday morning.
A black bear cub was reported at 1:09 a.m, on June 6, on the west end of Portsmouth. The cub was pursued for 45 minutes and escorted back into the wild by Portsmouth Police overnight, after it strolled through the east end of town.
Recently, during an orientation day for Shawnee State University, a black bear cub was discovered by a member of Shawnee State’s Department of Public Safety. The bear was followed through campus, through a block off campus and was then immediately treed. The bear remained in the tree for hours, until officers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources could respond and assist in removing the bear from city limits. The bear cub was last seen crossing the Ohio River and entering the Kentucky riverbanks, similarly to Wednesday morning’s bear escape.
Jenny Richards, of the Shawnee State Department of Wildlife, said that she isn’t too alarmed with the black bear sightings, because they are a common occurrence this time of the year, with June and July being active months for black bear movement.
“It is not odd,” Richards explained. “Bears are mobile and they need about a hundred square miles in their home range. When bears become teenagers, they become ornery, especially among the males, and the mothers will run the bears out of their territory, because they need to be off on their own.”
Richards said that most bear sightings occur along the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders of Ohio, but there is a large amount of forestry nearby for them to live in, so sightings aren’t too rare.
“While not rare, we don’t deal with bears very often,” Richards said. “I’ve found scat in the park before and we’ve had people report sightings, but I’ve still never seen a bear. One of my coworkers has seen a bear within forest limits and at one time we had seven reports of bear sightings in the campgrounds during one year. We’ve also found bear hair before.”
Richards said that any sighting of a black bear should be enjoyed from a reasonable distance.
“If people see a bear, they should just enjoy it. Go, ‘wow, cool. Look, there’s a bear.’ Any kind of wildlife you get to see is just a treat, so people should enjoy it,” Richards said. “Now, if a bear should attack or charge you, you should react differently, but if you just see one, the opportunity should be enjoyed at a good distance. Don’t approach the bear. Never run from a bear, because predators like to chase.”
Richards said that a black bear’s diet is 90 percent composed of fruit and berries, making human attacks rare. If a person should get too close to a black bear, they shouldn’t run and they shouldn’t curl up and defend major organs, like they are told to do with grizzly bear attacks.
Most black bears can be deterred by standing tall, waving arms and making loud sounds, which will typically scare the bear away in the attempt to act larger than the bear with the bear scare tactics. If all else fails, Richard said that a black bear attack can typically be ceased by punching the bear in the nose, but if the bear is persistent, a person can curl up and try to defend major organs as a last hope.
Portsmouth Chief of Police Robert Ware said that any sightings should be reported immediately to the police; people should stay back and absolutely refrain from any injury to the bear.
“The thing we want to stress is that we share a habitat with the wild,” Ware said. “Living in a rural community, you’re going to sometimes cross paths with human activity and animal activity.”
Ware said that while paths will cross, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the animals from a distance, but to stay clear from them and refrain from anything that might intimidate them.
“What we don’t want is to have people corner them, because they will feel threatened. If you see a bear, let the authorities safely escort it to safety,” Ware said. “If you want to take a picture, make sure you do it from within the safety of your care or home.”
Ware presses that injury to any endangered animal is a serious consequence under law and anyone caught killing a black bear will be held accountable.
“The legal ramifications of shooting an endangered animal are not something someone wants to face,” Ware explained. “We will only do that in an absolute last resort and there is an attack on a person. Typically, the black bear is not akin to being aggressive.”
Richard recommends people to learn more about black bears by researching on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’s website at www.ohiodnr.gov.
Joseph Pratt can be reached at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.