Domestication from interaction with people led to the demise of a yearling bear.
“Unfortunately, this is the worst thing as a biologist,” Dan Lovelace, district biologist with the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), said.
He was referring to the Oct. 28 trapping and subsequent destruction of the bear that had been frequenting the area near Lovers Leap, along U.S. 58.
Social media was a factor because videos posted and shared online helped to promote it and attract visitors, according to Lovelace.
According to some social media sites, videos posted on Oct. 24, Oct. 28 and beyond often showed visitors in close proximity of the yearling, which was usually just on the other side of the Lovers Leap wall.
“That is not a normal behavior for a bear,” Lovelace said.
According to the DGIF website, bears often distrust people.
Even though some people shared the posts on social media to try to educate and discourage people from interacting with the bear, the posts did not have that effect, Lovelace said. Sadly, even more people flocked to see the bear.
It also was fed human food, and learned to associate food with humans, according to Lovelace, who said reports also had been received that someone actually petted the animal.
Obviously, the bear was young and had not learned to fear humans, Lovelace said. As the bear aged and got bigger, that lack of fear likely would continue. As a result, any relocation efforts would pose a risk to public safety, he said.
Although witnessing wild animals is exciting, local game official Dale Owens said that encounters with wildlife can become a “big safety risk for people and the animals.”
Individuals should not feed wild animals at any time, because some animals will become dependent on it, and that poses a public health concern, he said. In some of those cases, such as the bear at Lover’s Leap, the animal may have to be destroyed.
“When a wild animal starts to associate humans with easy food, the animal will start seeking out humans. We cause them to become domesticated. This bear had to be destroyed because of the amount of domestication,” Owens said.
The DGIF’s website includes educational pamphlets regarding bears and other wildlife, along with strict admonitions to not feed bears or any other kind of wildlife. DGIF personnel noted it also is illegal to feed bears.
Residents, communities, local governments and DGIF can work together to help keep bears and other wildlife safe by educating themselves about behaviors and learning to prevent negative interactions.
In the case of bears, nervous behaviors include huffing or jaw popping. Inquisitive behaviors include standing up to smell something interesting.
Respect the bear’s space and enjoy watching bears from a distance. If you come in close contact with a bear, back away slowly and remember that bears have a natural distrust of humans and will run when given a safe escape route.
When encountering s bear and after ensuring it has an escape route, make sure it knows it is unwelcome by making lots of noise to encourage it to leave.
For more information about black bear and other wildlife, visit www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/.
Report any unresolved issues by calling the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (434) 525-7522.