- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — It took three tranquilizer darts, a beanbag gun and a pepper-ball gun to bring down a black bear running through Roanoke, police and game officials close on its tail.

The 140-pound bear, which lumbered through the city two weeks ago, was turned over to Michael Vaughan, professor of wildlife science at Virginia Tech, who has been studying bears for 26 years. He said he will use the bear for his reproductive physiology research.

The sight of a bear running down a street hasn’t been a rare sight this summer. Bear sightings and encounters have been on the rise, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said.

“I suspect it’s because we’ve had some hot and dry conditions and there may not be as much water or food in their natural habitat,” Mr. Vaughan said. He said black bears typically are shy and try to avoid humans.

In addition to searching for food, younger bears might just be searching for a home.

“The other thing that happens is usually in mid to late June, adult females have yearlings with them and they’re preparing to breed again, so they chase the yearlings off,” Mr. Vaughan said.

The bear population is estimated to be between 6,000 and 10,000 in Virginia, said Julia Dixon, a spokeswoman for Game and Inland Fisheries. She said the animals are very solitary and mobile so it’s hard to determine a solid count, but the population has seen a steady increase.

Most problems have been related to bears damaging bird feeders and getting in trash and pet food, the department said. Some bears are causing property damage. There hasn’t been any documented unprovoked attacks on humans, Miss Dixon said.

The department said bears are highly adaptable and intelligent animals that can learn to associate human dwellings with food. Their sense of smell also draws them to trash and feeders.

Mr. Vaughan expects that in late August and September, when acorns start growing on trees, the sightings will decrease. The bears will go back into the woods in search of the acorns and prepare for winter denning, he said.

Until then, Mr. Vaughan recommends that if you encounter a bear, don’t look the animal in the eye because it would be like challenging the bear.

“You want to make yourself as big as you can. You want to make noise and chase it away,” Mr. Vaughan said.

To keep bears away, remove or secure potential food sources and feed pets only when they will eat. The department also recommends putting up electric fencing to protect beehives, trash bins and gardens.

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