The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has confirmed multiple sightings of a young black bear in the Texoma area.
TPWD Game Warden Steve Stapleton said the male bear was most recently seen on the outskirts of Bells, allowing a lucky few residents and motorists to capture photos and videos of the animal.
“We think it’s the same bear, but he’s been in multiple locations,” Stapleton said. “From just looking at him, he appears to be a juvenile, which means he’s likely been booted from his family unit. Now he’s just kind of wandering around.”
Black bears are native to North America and stand as the continent’s smallest and most-populous bear species. Adults typically grow to a length of up to five feet and can weigh between 150 and 350 pounds in adulthood. Stapleton said black bears have a stronger presence in East Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, but the TPWD was happy to see the a member of the species making his way west. Stapleton said the young bear has not previously been tagged, making him a new face for wildlife officials. The game warden said the bear may possibly have a sibling in the area, as well.
“We make no bones about it — we’re glad to have a confirmed sighting up there,” Stapleton said. “We’ve been pushing for (the expansion of) bears for the past couple of years.”
Stapleton said bears are active throughout the spring and summer months and use the warmer weather as an opportunity to forage for seasonal foods, such as wild berries. According to a TPWD profile of the species, black bears are largely opportunistic feeders and omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and other animals. Stapleton said black bears generally avoid contact with humans, but hunger does occasionally drive them into populated areas.
“His whole world is smell, so he’s going to love garbage cans, dog food, bird feeders and so on,” Stapleton said. “If everybody can keep that kind of stuff picked up, that’d be a big help.”
Black bears are a protected species in Texas and cannot be hunted. If convicted, violators can be charged up to $10,000 in penalties and fines, have hunting privileges revoked and face jail time. Female black bears typically establish a range of 5,000 acres, while males may boast a range of 20,000 acres. Stapleton said the TPWD rarely encounters issues with black bears, but humans can create problems when they illegally feed bears and become seen as a food source.
“Everybody needs to leave the bear alone,” Stapleton said. “Now if folks encounter a problem, like if somebody finds him in the backyard and he won’t leave, they can call their sheriff’s department. They’ll get one of our game warden’s out there and we’ll address it. But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem with this little bear, he’s just bouncing around.”
Despite the bear’s new found celebrity status among locals, Stapleton said he and other wildlife officials had no intention of naming the creature.
“A lot of people have been calling him the little ‘Bells Bear,’ but we’re not into naming wild animals,” Stapleton said. “We just like seeing wild things in wild places. And if you get to see him, count yourself lucky.”