AUBURN, Alabama — Black bears populate the Southeast, and Alabama is no exception. Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife scientist and professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, sheds light on the current black bear population and what to do if you encounter one.
“Black bears have always been native to the southeast. They have always been in this area, but the population is in decline obviously due to habitat loss and persecution.”
“Until recently, one of the last strongholds of black bears was in Mobile. At that time we estimated there were about 50 bears in that area,” Armstrong said.
According to Armstrong, the Mobile population of black bears was imperiled because of the city’s development and urbanization. However, they stayed there because the Mobile Tensaw River Delta provided refuge, and eventually they would scatter to the outskirts of the city.
Current black bear population in Alabama
“You might hear estimates ranging from 300 to 1,000. I think 300 might be a little high for resident bears,” said Armstrong. “We have transient bears that come through the state, and those are the bears people often see. A lot of them are young males dispersing from being pushed out of their home. They can cover a tremendously, large area.”
Georgia has a fairly large bear population, particularly in the North Georgia mountains.
“The bears that we have in north Alabama and even central Alabama are primarily coming in from Georgia. As their population expands outward, we get the bears coming in. Of course, some of those bears coming through may end up staying,” Armstrong added.
Armstrong said a mama bear and her two cubs were recently caught on a game camera. “That’s positive proof of reproduction taking place in Alabama.”
Things that attract black bears to your property
- Trash cans
- Dog food left out overnight
- Deer feeders
“Everybody in Alabama doesn’t need to put out a bear proof trash can, but if you start having bear activity in the area it is something you should be proactive about. It’s much easier to not let the habit form. If the bear gets used to coming on your property and feeding, then you have to break the habit,” Armstrong said.
What to do if you encounter a black bear
In any bear encounter, Armstrong suggests retreating slowly as the best method of preventing conflict with a bear.
“Don’t approach them or try to attract them,” Armstrong said. “There is something about making eye contact with animals that makes them feel threatened. Back away and don’t run because running brings on chasing. When you encounter a black bear, stand up as tall as you can and make yourself look big.”
Armstrong added, “Don’t corner them. Give them a way to get away because they’re just as afraid of you as you are of them. They don’t want to get into a confrontation, but they will if they have to and they will win.”
When asked about an encounter with a mama bear and her cubs, Armstrong said, “definitely don’t get between a mama bear and her cubs. The maternal instinct is strong and she will defend her cubs. Remove yourself from their proximity.”
If you see a bear in your area and are concerned, call the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or the Alabama Black Bear Alliance.
Featured image by NaturesMomentsuk/Shutterstock.com
Bear crossing road image by Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com
Mama bear and cub by Hal Brindley/Shutterstock.com