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Be aware of possible bear activity

They sure look like bears, but the animals captured on a trail camera in Brookhaven recently are likely raccoons, according to a biologist.

But that does not mean black bears are not in these parts. It wasn’t that long ago that a bear damaged a vehicle in Lawrence County, and those with hunting property near the river know that bears frequent the region.

“For some people over in the Delta or around Vicksburg, seeing a bear is nothing out of the ordinary,” said Jamie Holt, biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ black bear program. “They’re beginning to be more common in (the Brookhaven) area, starting to reestablish in Southwest Mississippi.”

Holt estimated the bear population in the state to be in the 200-250 range, which sounds low. But that could equal two to three bears in each county if they were spread evenly. But they are not; bears are much more common along the Mississippi River than in other parts of the state.

If you encounter a bear or suspect you have one on your property, Holt has a few tips, chiefly that you do not feed them.

“The biggest thing you don’t want is for bears to become food-conditioned and human-habituated,” he said. “You don’t want bears to start relating humans to food, because then they lose their fear of humans and start to associate a person with a way of getting food. We want bears to stay wild, to stay out in the woods and keep their fear of humans.”

Black bears are not likely to attack your pets, but could end up fighting with a dog if the canine decides to protect its food bowl from a curious bear. Holt said pet owners in areas where bears have been sighted should take up their outside dog’s food and bowl after feeding, and make sure garbage is secured and taken to the road the morning of pick up, not the night before.

Hunters who have black bears wander into their hunting grounds should empty out deer feeders, otherwise it will just keep coming back for an easy meal. Black bears are a protected species, which means shooting one is illegal. 

Anyone who encounters a bear while walking, or has a bear intrude into their yard, should make large gestures and lots of noise — blow the car horn, bang pots and pans together, shout — to scare it away. A black bear’s first instinct is to run, Holt said. He said even a mother would run before she fought for her cubs, unless she felt cornered.

Brookhaven Animal Control Officer Roxanne Norton said black bears are in the Brookhaven area, and asked anyone who sees a bear to contact Brookhaven police at 601-833-2424.