Black bears can also be brown cinnamon or blond.  Photo by National Geographic

Black bears can also be brown cinnamon or blond. Photo by National Geographic

A bear was reported hanging out in the grassy area behind Sousa Elementary School in Mesa on Tuesday evening. He was successfully captured by Arizona Game and Fish officials. Curious as a bear myself, I had to look up the address of the school to see exactly how far from the wild this black bear had wandered. If he came out of the Goldfield Mountains near Usery Park, the hungry youngster padded more than a mile along asphalt streets past the blank faces of many homes before reaching the school grounds.
Although black bears are bashful and secretive, a two year old such as this one has recently been nudged into independence, and is learning that finding food was a lot easier with mom’s help. As an omnivore, he eats a wide range of goodies, from berries to insects, cactus fruits, nuts and more. His keen sense of smell picks up the scent of even an empty food wrapper from a great distance. He was most probably drawn into this neighborhood by its smells.
Although suburbia must seem strange and scary, he doesn’t know it’s not bear territory until someone tells him so. Most humans react to the sight of a bear by going into their homes and watching out the window. The bear’s good with that – happy to have two legged humans out of the way while he noses around for some grub.
The Mesa bear was captured, checked for good health and tagged. The male was estimated to be two and a half years old and weighed about 120 pounds. He was released in the Tonto National Forest where it is hoped he will establish a territory and live out a natural bear life. If he ever turns up captured again he will be euthanized. It is believed habitual offenders will continue to risk contact with humans to get easy food.
According to Arizona Game and Fish urban wildlife specialists, the most common attractant for black bears is garbage. Number two is hummingbird feeders and seed feeders. BBQ grills and pet foods also smell amazing to bears. AZGF estimates the state black bear population to be around 2500 individuals, most rarely seen by humans.
Bear cubs are born in January and emerge from the den in April. They stay with momma through that year and den with her again for a second winter. Then they must make it on their own. Black bears can live more than 20 years in the wild and males may grow to stand 6 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds. Black bears are curious, intelligent animals that seek solitude.
People living on the urban fringes can help protect bears by securing garbage cans and bringing bird feeders in at night. Burning food residue off grills immediately after cooking and keeping pet food indoors are other bear-safe actions. Suburbanites encountering a bear should make every effort to scare it away by standing tall and making a lot of loud noise. Trying to attract bears with food treats is an invitation to tragedy. Even a bear out of school knows that.


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