PART OF THE JOB — PEF member Larry Bifaro poses with a bear that was tranquilized at a youth camp in Greene County and later released. The bear was tranquilized as part of a tagging effort to identify nuisance bears. — Photo by Scott Van Arsdale
By DEBORAH A. MILES
There’s a certain fascination when a black bear wanders into a city and climbs a tree. When the word gets around, authorities and people from all walks of life gather to get a glimpse of the furry intruder.
That’s what happened in May when hundreds of people in the Stockade section of Schenectady and in North Greenbush heard a bear was visiting their neighborhoods.
A bear was seen in Schenectady the morning of May 10. A technician from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was sent to identify any signs of bear activity, but found nothing.
Things started happening later in the day after PEF member Karl Parker, a wildlife biologist at DEC, went home. He got a call the bear was sighted again.
“The bear was in a populated area in the middle of a city,” Parker said.
“The bear, itself, wasn’t a threat to people, but its presence was more of a threat because it created a circus atmosphere with people wanting to see it.
“As biologists, our first inclination is to send the people home, wait until dark and most likely the bear will come down from the tree on its own. That way we wouldn’t need to drug it.”
Although Parker commended the Schenectady Police Department for keeping the crowd back, the bear’s fate was not to be a midnight escape back to the mountains, but to be tranquilized.
THE STOCKADE BEAR — Photo by Lori Van Buren, courtesy Albany Times Union
It takes a plan
Parker described the scene as congested, with people watching from their rooftops, police snipers in place, TV cameramen and local legislators. He brought along all the equipment necessary to tranquilize the bear.
“You can’t tranquilize an animal unless you have a way to transport it. We had to take a trailer and trap with us,” Parker said. “There’s a lot that goes into this, more than most people realize.”
One of the things is to estimate the weight of the bear. Parker said this one was approximately 130 to 150 pounds. That determines how much drug to use.
“It takes a while for the drugs to take effect, up to 10 minutes or longer.
If you ‘underdrug’ a bear, it could react in a number of ways, such as jumping down from the tree and running away. We want the bear to be in an anesthetic state, so it doesn’t have pain and can’t escape,” Parker said.
Parker shot the bear with a dart containing the drugs. After waiting about 15 minutes, he shot another dart.
“You are never quite sure if the dart will function the way it should. It may not fire properly, or bounce off, or hit an area where there is a lot of fat. You want the drug to go into the muscle,” he said. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong. It’s not like you are manually pushing a plunger of a hypodermic needle into an animal. It’s not an innocuous process. There are hazards with any drugs.”
Soon after the second dart was shot, the bear dropped from the tree. Before transporting him from the area, Parker performed a minor surgical procedure to remove the dart and tagged the bear’s ear.
“We must identify the animal to track any potential sightings. Bears don’t often stay where they are released. They like to move around. The ear tag has a number and advisory on it to alert anyone who encounters the animal. This is a protective measure for people who might kill a bear with a motor vehicle and plan to later consume the animal, which can be dangerous if the drugs are still in its system,” Parker said.
The bear was then loaded in the culvert trap and hauled away.
A few days later, a similar situation presented itself in North Greenbush when a bear was sighted in a tree. DEC was called and Parker responded. This bear came down with one dart and was later released in eastern Rensselaer County.
“A bear captured earlier in the year in Albany was originally released in Greene County. He was again captured in a developed area a few days later and released on state land in Delaware County,” said PEF member Larry Bifaro, a wildlife biologist who specializes in black bear management.
Let bears be bears
Bifaro said there is no great explanation of why bears come to the city, except for food sources.
“There are food sources outside the city in safer places, away from traffic and homes next to each other. They may have been traveling using waterways or green corridors or railroad paths to get them fairly safely into the city, and then they may get lost,” Bifaro said.
Parker added in the spring when a female has a den with new cubs, she may drive her older cubs away, so she can devote all her time to the new ones.
“In spring, these yearling bears, usually males, are kicked out of their dens and are off trying to find new territory on their own,” Parker said.
New York has a healthy bear population with estimates of 7,000 to 8,000 bears roaming all parts of the state, except for New York City and Long Island.
“In the Capital District, it is a rare event to have bears. Usually an urban removal of a bear occurs once in every two to three years, For some reason this year, we’ve had a flurry of urban bear activity,” Bifaro said.
Both biologists agreed people should remove food sources that might keep bears hanging around, such as garbage, bird feeders and feeding pets outside.
“We want bears to eat food found in the wild,” Parker said. “People have an inclination to turn wild animals into pets. The best thing to do if you see a bear is to stay away from it and don’t feed it. Just let it be a wild animal."
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