AUBURN, Ala. – Black bears populate much of the Southeast. Alabama is no exception, and there have been more and more sightings of them within the state. Dr. Jim Armstrong, an Alabama Extension wildlife specialist, 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,” Armstrong said. “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.”
According to Armstrong, who is also a professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, 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. Eventually they would scatter to the outskirts of the city.
Current Black Bear Population in Alabama
Estimates range from 300 to 1,000 bears but Armstrong says that number is a little high for resident bears.
“We have transient bears that come through the state, and those are the bears people often see,” Armstrong said. “A lot of them are young males dispersing from being pushed out of their home. They can cover a tremendously, large area.”
Georgia also 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. Some of those bears coming through may end up staying,” Armstrong said.
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
Black bears are attracted to areas where humans are usually because they find food source. Trash cans, deer feeders and even dog food left out over night can attract a bear.
Armstrong said that if bear activity increases near a home, owners should not let the bear get into a habit of coming around.
“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,” Armstrong said. “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. There is something about making eye contact with animals that makes them feel threatened,” Armstrong said. “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.”
“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