By Roger McKinney
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Missouri Department of Conservation officials think a black bear spotted in Benton County on Tuesday may have been the same one seen wandering around Lamar on May 28.
The theory is that from Lamar, the bear made its way to Vernon County, then to Bates County on June 12 before showing up in Benton County.
Bill Graham, spokesman for the department, said the idea it’s the same bear was developed because the bear stopped being seen in one location and was spotted in another.
“There’s no way for us to know for sure,” Graham said, noting that there is no radio collar on the bear. “If you had to make a best guess, it’s the same bear.”
Lamar police Chief Ron Hager said a black bear wandered through town on May 28, sticking to backyards and a gully. Hager said police officers observed it as it meandered through town without incident. He said that was the first time he was aware of a bear being reported inside town.
On June 12, Lacey Cook spotted a bear in a field about eight miles southeast of Butler in Bates County.
“He was just kind of walking back and forth, wandering around,” Cook said in a Department of Conservation news release. “I think it’s pretty cool.”
The previous week, residents had reported seeing a bear and conservation agent Justin Fogle had found the bear’s tracks in Vernon County.
Jeff Beringer, a bear biologist with the department, said it’s plausible that it’s the same bear, a male about 1 1/2 years old.
“These younger bears are generally taking off from their mothers, dispersing to find their own territory,” Beringer said. “They get in unfamiliar territory, and sometimes they keep going.”
He said the bear is probably looking for “a good patch of woods” to establish a territory. He said the bear may not stay.
“Usually, bears aren’t going to set up a territory if there are no females around,” he said.
He said most black bears in Missouri stay near the Arkansas border, south of Interstate 44.
Jeff Beringer, bear biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the department is working on a study to get an accurate population estimate of the black bears in Missouri.