What could be the most famous black bear in the Midwest has found a new home, thanks to help from the Missouri Department of Conservation.
After being monitored for weeks and collecting nearly 150,000 followers on social media, “Bruno” was sedated outside Wentzville Sunday.
Local conservation agent Cpl. Ben Pursley said he was not personally involved with Bruno’s relocation, but confirmed the bear was set free somewhere in the southern St. Louis region, which includes Franklin, Jefferson, Crawford and Washington counties and possibly near the Mark Twain National Forest.
Pursley said it is unusual to tranquilize a wild animal unless it has become a nuisance, but in this case it was done for the animal’s safety.
The bear appeared within the city limits of Wentzville the morning of July 5 and cornered himself just north of Interstate 70 and near U.S. 40/61.
MDC Protection Capt. Scott Corley credited the St. Charles County and Wentzville Police departments for their assistance in the situation and in managing the crowd of more than 400 onlookers who gathered at the scene.
Bruno is suspected to have traveled from Wisconsin, through Illinois, and into Missouri.
He was first spotted near Elsberry in Lincoln County June 30, and then made his way into St. Charles County. The Missouri Department of Conservation, MDC, received reports of the bear as he continued to travel through Missouri.
“The bear found itself in a tough spot, stuck by several major roadways,” said MDC State Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee. “Due to the proximity to the roadways, coupled with the busy travel day, MDC staff determined the bear had little chance of safely leaving the area on its own. In the interest of public safety and the bear’s safety, MDC staff made the decision to immobilize the bear and transport it to a nearby area of suitable bear habitat outside this urban corridor.”
Cpl. Pursley said there have been two black bear sightings in Franklin County in the past two weeks. A bear was hit and killed on Interstate 44 near Sullivan and a 200-pound bear was spotted on a trail camera outside Lonedell.
Dan Zarlenga, MDC media specialist, says black bears that are being spotted near St. Louis are looking for what all living things want — food.
“Our studies estimate about 350 bears live in the state and the vast majority reside south of the Interstate 44 border,” Zarlenga said. “However, we also see this population expanding slowly, both in total numbers and geographically (as in northward).”
It’s not unusual for bears to roam hundreds of miles for a variety of reasons, he said, including looking for food or mates.
Last summer, a black bear was seen eating from a bird feeder in a Sullivan residential area and in July 2018 a bear was spotted running through a Marthasville neighborhood and several other locations in Warren County near the Missouri River.
Older males may chase younger males out of their territories, putting the younger bears on the move. They are especially mobile in spring and early summer, after exiting winter hibernation and needing to stock up on food and energy again.
“We feel it’s reasonable to expect sightings will increase as time goes by and this expansion continues,” Zarlenga said. “At this point bears will most likely move on after getting what they want — or not getting it. It’s important for residents to not give bears an incentive to stick around.”
Since Franklin County is at the tip of the Ozarks, which is a prime bear habitat with plenty of wooded areas and food supply, bear sightings here would most likely be in rural locations, but they could be anywhere.
Bears are omnivores and opportunists, and will pursue a great variety of foods using their keen sense of smell. This includes grass, berries and other fruits, various seeds and nuts, the inner bark of trees and roots.
If bears are not fed, provoked, cornered or threatened, danger to humans is generally very minimal.