The American Black Bear once had a wide ranging territory that stretched across most of the nation. However, after years of hunting and habitat loss, the black bear was extirpated from many areas, including Indiana. Over the years, the Black Bear has maintained healthy populations in the Western United States, as well as the North Woods, Appalachian Mountains, and other areas. Populations have continued to rebound in recent years, returning black bears to more areas as well. In Indiana, a black bear had not been seen since 1871, until a bear crossed into Indiana from Michigan in 2015. Last year, another bear crossed the southern border of Indiana into Harrison, Washington and Clark counties.(1) Currently, it is thought to be hibernating on Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge north of Madison. You can find a video of the bear here.
Black bears are beautiful animals that range in size and color. Female black bears range from about 100 pounds to 250 pounds, while males can weigh between 150 and 400 pounds. Most black bears in the Eastern United States have a black coat and tan snout, but in the west they can be a cinnamon or brown color as well. When standing, black bears can reach a height of up to seven feet. Black bears have short claws that are excellent for climbing trees. While black bears do eat meat, they are omnivorous, and much of their diet consists of berries, nuts, and insects. With growing human populations, they are frequently scavengers, eating food that is unhealthy and unnatural for them, while habituating them toward humans.(2) To find their food, they use a superb sense of smell and hearing to locate potential food sources from a great distance away. Black bears can be found awake during any part of the day or night, but they are most active during dawn and dusk, similar to deer and elk, making them crepuscular, rather than diurnal or nocturnal.(1) Whereas many black bears hibernate during the winter, some wake up to forage for food, while many do not hibernate at all. This depends on the food sources available to them and the climate of their habitat.(2)
Generally, black bears are shy, timid, and solitary by nature. Unless a mother is with her cubs, these bears are normally seen alone rather than in groups. Most black bears flee at loud noises or upon seeing humans, unless they have been habituated towards them. Therefore, black bear attacks are rare. Most often, a black bear is aggressive toward humans when they associate them with food.(1) As people have fed and consistently approached bears, some lost their fear of humans and would approach them expecting food, not unlike a dog that has been trained in your household or a raccoon approaching your campsite. According to the DNR, if you come into contact with a bear, it is important to remember to:
- Enjoy it from a distance.
- Do not climb a tree.
- Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms and backing slowly away.
- Never attempt to feed or attract bears.
- Report bear sightings to the Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife at (812) 334-1137, through email at dfw@dnr.IN.gov, or online.(1)
Failure to follow these guidelines may be dangerous for yourself and the bear. If a bear becomes too accustomed to humans, beginning to approach them or their homes, they are likely to relocated or euthanized for the sake of public safety. Let’s protect these beautiful creatures by maintaining a safe distance and enjoying them from afar.
For more information about black bears in Indiana, visit the DNR’s website, listed below.
Ever wondered how the Teddy Bear got its name from Theodore Roosevelt? The story can be found here.