Sometimes it’s good to have the bear necessities

Last week, as I listed various animals and their present afflictions, I overlooked the Black Bear.

Mange is spreading through the bear population and will certainly reduce their numbers. If you spot a bear with mange you will certainly recognize that something is wrong, even if you can’t identify it.

The black bear’s mating season is winding down now, though it is not over. It is now that the yearling cubs are booted away from their mother so she can be impregnated again. These teenage bears are a bit frightened, confused and on the move, looking for a new place to locate. These are the bears that so often wander into town and the sight of them sets everyone on edge.

I once had a rural mail carrier question me as to whether it was safe to deliver the mail as a bear had been sighted a couple of weeks before in the neighborhood. I assured her that the bear was probably 100 miles away by now, although it was possible another bear could come through. I told her to simply freeze and enjoy the sight.

I’ve run into quite a few black bears over the years, often while spring gobbler hunting. They sometimes come to calls, hoping to have turkey for breakfast. A yell and a wave usually drives them away, the last thing they want to encounter is a human. They do not at all like the smell of us and catching a whiff of us is usually enough to send them into high gear.

So if you see a bear shuffling along a street or field, let it alone and it will make its own way off.

Mange is a readily identifiable disease n its later stages. A bear that looks as if it has been skinned or all its hair pulled off its body is probably suffering from Mange. This malady is caused by a tiny mite that burrows under its skin and causes it to itch. This prompts the bear to begin scratching itself against trees and telephone poles, which helps pull out the hair. It can be transferred to humans by direct contact so if you chance upon a dead bear in the woods, do not touch it.

Mange has always been around but Pennsylvania Game Literature explains that since the early 1990s, mange began to be observed more regularly than before. Now, it is a major plague for the bears and of course, much research is underway to find a cause, remedy etc. concerning mange.

As with most diseases affecting our wildlife at this point, mange spreads through direct contact with the infected animals and one way that encourages such contact is any kind of mass feeding programs. Humans don’t usually put out food for bears in the winter because bears are hibernating then.

But humans are very careless about storing their garbage and bears raiding dumpsters will likely draw scores of onlookers any night. Bears are happy to rake through your garbage if you live in a rural area and set your garbage out for collection the night before it is picked up.

Bears love bird feeders and will go to great lengths to tear them down as many homeowners find out to their distress. But your pets could pick up mange from the leavings of infected bears that have raided your garbage can or birdhouses.

What should you do if you see a bear with mange? The Game Commission asks that you please contact the regional office serving the county in which you live. See your wildlife digest or you can go online. Do not attempt to approach or capture the animal yourself as wild animals will not usually take kindly to any effort to capture them or even to chase them away from their supper.

I have had so many close encounters with black bears over the years but have never witnessed one that had mange. I once had a bear that wandered underneath the tree in which I had taken up a stand in archery season. It decided to sit under that tree and did so for hours before it finally left about an hour or more after dark.

The bear never knew I was sitting in the tree just feet above him and I never alerted him. Let well enough alone I figured.

When he decided to pad away some hours later, I dropped out of the tree, made my way out of the woods by flashlight in a direction opposite of the one I had last seen him going. I had about a mile to walk to get to my truck and I knew that if any Game Commission personnel were stationed at that gamelands gate where my truck was parked, waiting for late hunters, he would have me for sure. That he would actually believe that a bear had kept me up a tree for over four hours was a stretch I knew for sure.

Well, no one was out there, a huge relief to me. Later I would tell Game Protector Bill Bower of Bradford County about my encounter with that bear. He assured me the indeed he would not have believed my story but I can tell you it was one of the great adventures of my life and I often reminisce about it.