Missouri State University
Springfield - 91.1
Branson - 90.5
West Plains - 90.3
Mountain Grove - 88.7
Joplin - 98.9
Neosho - 103.7
Share |

It look's like you don't have Adobe Flash Player installed. Get it now.

Black Bear Study is Underway in Missouri

An extensive study underway in Missouri is hoped to reveal more about the state's black bear population. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more…

In a clearing in some woods in Eastern Webster County, traps have been set up to try to capture black bears. It’s part of a $300,000 four-year study of bears in Missouri by the Missouri Department of Conservation that recently got underway. Biologists this particular day were pleasantly surprised: one of the traps—a long cylindrical container--contained a female black bear.Conservation Department wildlife biologist Jeff Beringer administered a tranquilizer thru one of the holes in the side. But first the trap had to be tilted so the bear was close enough to the side for the needle to reach her…

Finally, she was out enough so that she could be slid out of the trap onto a tarp…

The 1st order of business was to put ointment in the bear’s eyes since the tranquilizer immobilizes and she can’t blink.Next a tracking collar was put around her neck, which Beringer says will allow biologists to study her until next summer…

"When we put this collar on her, we want to have it as loose as we can get it, but we don't want it to come off, so what I'm doing is I'm putting this on and I'm going to pull it over her ears. They can gain 30% of their body weight, so you want to take that into account when you put this collar on her."

The $3500 collar is set to fall off next July—it needs to be retrieved before the batteries die so it can be reused.After the collar is in place, a tooth is removed from the bear which will let biologists know how old she is and when she’s had cubs…

"Just looking at the teeth here, she's got some age on her. You can see some staining, and there's a crest here that's wore down, and a broken canine on the left, upper and lower."

According to Beringer, the tooth will be sent to a lab and soaked in acid until it’s the consistency of a jelly bean. It will be frozen, then sliced into razor-thin sections. Those will be stained, placed under a microscope and the tooth annulations can be counted like the growth rings on a tree…

"The years that she's had cubs, the annulations will be heavier, so we'll be able to look at this bear and say, for example, if she's nine years old, we might be able to say she had cubs when she was three, five, seven and nine based on those annulations, so this tooth is pretty valuable to us learning a lot about her."

Measurements are taken next and the bear is weighed—this one is 180 pounds. It’s estimated that there are around 300 black bears left in Missouri, but Beringer says that’s just a guess. When settlers came to the state, the population disappeared due to drastic changes in the landscape and over hunting. Arkansas released about 254 black bears in that state in the 50s and 60s. Biologists think that most of the bears in Missouri today came here from our southern neighbor. Beringer believes that most of the bears in the state today are south of I-44.It was thought that at one time bears were completely gone from the state, but Beringer says that’s up for debate right now…

"These bears right here are genetically different than the bears from Arkansas, which came from Minnesota and Manitoba, so we got hair samples from those bears and from Arkansas, and these bears are very different, so the theory that makes sense is that there might have been just a few bears that were always here and they now are growing."

The study that’s currently underway will determine with much more accuracy the statewide population of bears.Bait sites were set up in Howell, Christian, Webster, Douglas, Barry, Stone and Texas Counties, and 13 bears have been trapped and collars placed on them. Information from the bears’ collars will let biologists learn the bears’ home range size and where they den. Next summer, 750 hair snares will be set up around the state to collect hair from as many bears as possible…

"From that hair, we'll get the sex of the bear, we're going to try to get the age, and we'll identify it as an individual."

The hair samples will allow biologists to come up with a minimum population of bears in Missouri. Information from the collars will tell biologists where the hair snares should be placed.The bear study is the first of its kind in the state, and Beringer says the hair snare study is expected to be the largest of its kind…

"And that's kind of neat, too, that we're able to really do it right instead of just kind of doing it in a small area and extrapolating what we found to the whole state, you don't know how that's going to work out. We're actually able to do it in a lot of places and have better confidence."

After the bear trapped on this particular day was moved into the woods to awaken, her two curious cubs soon joined her to check out her new collar…

"Look at that. Oh, that's awesome. That's incredible having them come in like that."

Jeff Beringer says information they obtain about when the bears den will be useful for protecting females if the Conservation Department eventually decides to have a bear hunting season…

"And we'll harvest young males, and that will allow the population to continue to grow without having an impact on it."

He says they don’t want the public to become intolerant of bears. If they can regulate the species so it balances with habitat and social capacities, he says, we’ll have bears for a long time.

black bear cubs in Webster County
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky black bear cubs in Webster County
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky bear traps
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky black bear being pulled out of trap
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky getting ready to put the collar on
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky Jeff Beringer checks the bear's teeth
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky Jeff Beringer shows the extracted tooth
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky weighing the bear
Photo Credit:  Michele Skalicky