On the Prowl

Indiana’s only black bear has been a hit with area residents, social media

He has been hibernating in
Madison, Ind.’s Big Oaks refuge

(March 2017)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

“Boo Boo” the bear is on the move.
Of course, that’s not his real name since Indiana’s wildlife biologists are squeamish about naming wild animals (more on that later). Indiana’s only black bear has been wintering at the 58,000-acre Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Madison, Ind. But with the unseasonably warm weather in February, the young male bear awoke from his slumber and has been prowling nearby cornfields, bee hives, and backyards of residences around the northern perimeter of the refuge in search of food.
“Everyone is interested in that bear,” said Joe Robb, Project Leader of both Big Oaks and Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Robb says the bear is likely searching for corn residue from the fields, persimmons, paw paws, bird seed, garbage items or grubs from tree stumps.

Photo provided

Madison, Ind., area resident Mark Brunck took this photo of the wandering bear.

“We’ve had several sightings – the last one in January by a resident, Tim Demaree, who lives along Hwy. 421 near the north end of the refuge.” A FOX 41 TV news crew from Louisville interviewed Demaree about his sighting of the bear. Last September, Blake Dueser, who lives on the northern perimeter of the refuge, sent Robb several photos of the bear prowling for food near his house.
Inside the refuge, the bear has been sighted by fishermen, hunters and even employees at the Air National Guard base located in the northern end, Robb said.
Robb has fielded many calls from area residents and Louisville TV stations in recent months, ever since last August when the bear was first sighted in and around the refuge in Jennings County near North Vernon (the refuge spans the Indiana counties of Jennings, Ripley and Jefferson). The bear tends to climb over the perimeter fence or slip through holes in the fence to search for food and then return to the refuge, Robb said.
Residents throughout southern Indiana have sent him photos and videos of the bear, many of which he has posted at the Big Oaks’ Facebook page.
The bear has generated lots of publicity in area news media and much activity on social media since it was first discovered having crossed the Ohio River into Indiana near Corydon last July. In fact, the bear has – not one, but two – Facebook pages. Rick Yarbrough of Jeffersonville, Ind. had a face-to-face encounter with the bear in his backyard in July that prompted him to create a Facebook page titled “The Black Bear of Harrison Co., Indiana Named Corydon.” Or “Cory” for short.
Then in August, Evan Sporleder of North Vernon had an encounter with the bear in his front yard as the bear moved northward. He subsequently created a Facebook page dedicated to the bear and named the animal Ronald Reagan in the hope that by naming the bear after the popular late president that it wouldn’t get shot. (Robb noted jokingly that the real Ronald Reagan DID get shot!)
But the friendly feud on social media over naming the bear got Robb to thinking – why not hold a “name the bear” contest?
So in early January, Robb announced the contest on the Big Oaks’ Facebook page. “The response was overwhelming,” he said.
Several people posted names and comments about the bear. As the contest progressed, however, state biologists with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources told Robb to abandon the contest, since it would not be good publicity if something bad happened to “Boo Boo,” or whatever his eventual name might be.
“They tend to not to want to name wild animals,” Robb said. However, he provided a few examples – such as the time a man in Indiana named a couple of injured Bald Eagles he was nursing back to health. “And Jane Goodall named all of her chimpanzees,” he offered.
So for now, this latest social media star apparently will have to go by “Indiana’s Only Black Bear.”
Wildlife experts believe this bear traveled hundreds of miles to Indiana – all the way from the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky. “If you look at a map, you can trace a path of wooded areas over to Fort Knox and up through Corydon and to the refuge,” Robb said. “We know he took that route because of the many sightings along the way.”
Robb said it is illegal to shoot the bear unless it is damaging property. And there are federal laws against shooting animals on national refuge property (except for controlled deer and turkey hunts).
To avoid encountering the bear, Robb said that residents who live near the refuge should avoid leaving garbage cans or pet food out at night. “Bird seed is OK when it’s cold, but with this warm weather we are having now, it would be best not to leave bird seed out now.”
This is only the second black bear confirmed in Indiana since the 1870s, although Robb recalled a sighting near Michigan City in northern Indiana in 2015 and the discovery of possible bear scat found in Muscatatuck near Seymour in 2004.
Indiana wildlife officials say they want to leave the bear alone as opposed to try to capture it and return it to eastern Kentucky. They believe this may be the beginning of a mass black bear migration to Indiana, similar to the one that has taken place over the past decade in southern Ohio. “If you travel three counties in from the Ohio River in Ohio, you will find bears,” Robb said. “There is a large reproductive population of bears there.”
Kentucky has a growing bear population, and as young males are driven off by the larger, territorial bears, they are traveling elsewhere to feed and reproduce, Robb explained.
“Usually the males leave first, and the females follow later on.”
Bears tend to emerge from hibernation near the end of February or early March and remain on the move until mating season, which begins in early summer. But poor “Boo Boo,” er, I mean “Indiana’s Only Black Bear,” doesn’t have a mate to hook up with anywhere in the area, so he will not only be hungry but quite “frustrated.”

So a note to southern Indiana residents: leave your bird seed and garbage inside at night and try to avoid wearing that big, furry winter coat that’s been hanging in your closet all winter.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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