Mississippi bear program’s next step

Published 8:40 am Thursday, November 23, 2023

JACKSON — Mississippi’s Bear Program’s plan for 2024 is to continue research and public education. Bear Week will return this spring to aid in the continued outreach. 

A lot of people still ask if the MDWFP relocates bears. Ballard explained they do not because bears have such a strong homing sense that they will make it back to their capture location or die trying. 

He hopes to teach the public about how to limit conflicts with bears. Bear problems typically occur when humans provide a food source to bears. 

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“Bear Wise recommends to never feed, secure food and garbage, remove bird feeders, never leave pet food outdoors, clean and store grills and alert neighbors of bear activity,” Ballard said. “Our program’s goal is to get it in the public’s mind. It is rare to have bear problems but they usually start with humans and food.” 

Ballard said after the den check season they will start collaring again. MDWFP will have 10 new collars being built. He added a public survey was being developed for 2025 to follow up on a survey done in 2000. MDWFP should be able to compare public awareness and attitudes between the two data points. 

Ballard hopes to implement more traps with greater mobility in ease and use. He suggested they will have a real fabricator make them after he welded the newest trap. 

Answering questions

MDWFP commissioner Bill Cossar asked what the survival rate for cubs in Mississippi was. Ballard said he expects to see two to three cubs in a litter. One liter this past season had four and a record of five cubs in a litter has been recorded a few times. 

“The survival rate is good, it just depends on the situation. Males will sometimes kill cubs. Urban areas are a concern too it just depends,” Ballard said. “In the Mobile Basin in Alabama they have a good population with 50 percent cub survival. I can’t exactly say what our survival is but it is north of 50 percent.” 

One commissioner asked exactly what the bear population was in Mississippi. MDWFP’s current estimation is 150 to 300 bears in the state but Ballard believes it could be higher. 

“No way we caught 10 percent of the state’s population. There are more out there than we think,” Ballard said. “It frustrates me. There is not a good population estimate and we are working to get there.” 

A multi-state analysis of collar and hair snare data will again help the MDWFP settle on a good population estimate. 

Black Panthers? 

Commissioner Leonard Bentz brought up Arkansas’s latest sighting of a mountain lion at the end of the presentation. Commissioners discussed Arkasnas’s bear population compared to Louisiana and Mississippi when Bentz brought it up. His thought sparked another conversation to which Commissioner Scott Coopwood encouraged people to show evidence of a black panther in Mississippi. 

“Show it to us. We want to see it and we want to know,” Coopwood said. 

MDWFP has no official black panther sightings.