ST. LOUIS (AP) — Bears have been suddenly showing up, dead and alive, in Missouri neighborhoods and on its roadways, but it’s pretty normal for this time of year and is often just male bears looking for food or love in the wrong places.
A 400-pound male black bear was found dead Sunday in the Current River near the southern Missouri town of Van Buren. On Monday, one or two bears wandered into a mobile home park in Pevely, south of St. Louis. And three times in recent weeks, bears were found dead on southwestern Missouri roads.
Monitoring indicates that Missouri’s black bear population is slowly rising. But sightings, including bear deaths on roadways, have been steady in recent years.
Missouri Department of Conservation bear expert Laura Conlee said bear sightings are most common in late spring and early summer.
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“Right now we’ve got the breeding season going on so males are moving real large distances,” Conlee said. “They’re traveling far and wide within their breeding range in search of females.”
Other factors also are at play, Conlee said. Berries are just now ripening so bears are expanding their range in search of food. Bears born last year are venturing out on their own for the first time.
All of that movement means more sightings, some with sad endings.
A dead bear, presumably struck by a car, was found on Interstate 44 near Strafford last month. Two others were recently found on Highway 60, both near Mountain Grove.
On Sunday, two fishermen found a large black bear in the water on the Current River. It may have been stuck in tree roots. Conservation officials believe the bear drowned and wasn’t killed by poachers, but a necropsy is planned.
Missouri’s black bear population was estimated to be about 300 in 2012, and experts say it’s increasing, though that’s the last estimate available. The conservation department has placed monitoring collars on nearly 100 bears. Females are monitored to assess reproduction and cub survival rates. Males are monitored in part to assess their movement and breeding range.
When Missouri’s black bear population reaches 500, the state will consider allowing limited hunting, Conlee said.
The animals also are expanding their range.
“The bulk of our population is generally south of Interstate 44 but we do have bears that are kind of moving into some of these expanding areas in the state, around the Lake of the Ozarks and some areas in south-central Missouri,” Conlee said.
They’re even showing up in more populated areas, like suburban St. Louis. After calls began coming into Pevely police Monday night, Chief Tony Moutray posted an update on the department’s Facebook page.
“How do we say this so you don’t panic… we have a confirmed sighting of one possibly two bears in the Weier Mobile home community,” he wrote. “Please bring all pets inside and pick up any pet food you may have sitting out.”