Black Bears on the Move: Suburban Shock and Awww

On November 14, 1902 US president, outdoor enthusiast, and big game hunter Theodore Roosevelt experienced a profound moment of awww when he refused to shoot a young black bear. The president was the only member of a hunting party near Onward, Mississippi who had yet to bag a bear when one of his assistants decided, appropriately enough, to assist. The man cornered a young bear and somehow managed to tie it to a tree with a length of rope.

I mean, who could shoot that? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But the president refused to shoot the animal, claiming that to do so just wouldn’t be sporting. Awww. I find that a fairly endearing story, but Roosevelt had to endure a little bit of ribbing from the company of, evidently, less sporting men who asked him to hand over his man card.

Of course, the press also got hold of the story. Then it wasn’t long until political cartoonist Clifford Berryman chronicled President Roosevelt’s mushy side for the Washington Post. And that was fun. Everyone had a nice chuckle at the soft-hearted leader of the free world.

It also gave one man a great idea. Morris Michtom, candy seller and maker of stuffed animals for children, decided it would be a good idea to make a sweet stuffed bear dedicated to the president. People loved the bears, and when Michtom asked President Roosevelt for permission to name the toy in his honor, as he no longer possessed a man card anyway, he agreed. Teddy’s bear was born, and in the years since has become the prolific teddy bear, beloved by children throughout the world, teaching all of them that bears are soft and squishy and should be given lots of hugs.


Super huggable.


But it turns out that might not be entirely accurate, because as cute as they are, and they are CUTE, hugging black bears isn’t a great idea. At all.

Fortunately, in my corner of the world, we don’t have to think about it too much. Or at least that’s what I thought before a recent story broke in which a representative from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources calmly discussed the wild black bears now rambling their ways through the suburbs of St. Louis.

Much like Mississippi, the great state of Missouri was once home to a large population of black bears, and in the last few years, the dwindled population has been making a comeback. They’re out there. On one hand that’s great. Predators are an important part of ecosystems and their presence or absence is a good gauge of ecological health. But Missouri bears rarely take up residence in the suburbs.

black bear in the suburbs
Look at that cutie being all cute. But from a distance, okay? photo credit: RickyNJ Black Bear via photopin (license)

These haven’t. Allegedly they are just passing through and the experts have asked everyone to please keep calm. They’ve also asked us all not to feed or shoot the bears. And though to the best of my knowledge no one has said this specifically, I don’t think we’re supposed to try to give them squishy hugs, either.

I have seen a few videos of the critters as they make their way west, through suburban yards, and toward bear-appropriate wilderness. As far as I know, no people, pets, or bears have been hurt along the way, but there’ve been plenty of people surprised to see them, and once the shock has passed, a fair bit of awww.

14 thoughts on “Black Bears on the Move: Suburban Shock and Awww

  1. Humans have taken over so much of the natural habitat of wildlife, it’s tough for them to find a place not populated with people.

    Bears are cute, though I definitely don’t want to tangle with one.

    1. Agreed. It’s given me a little pause when I let my dog out, but I don’t really mind them wandering through since they’re pretty shy. I sure hope they figure out a good place to settle.

    1. This was news to me, too. Apparently not so new to the Department of Natural Resources. The bears have just typically avoided the suburbs. I was a little nervous to hear that they aren’t all that uncommon in State Parks. I mean, that’s a good place for them, but we do a lot of hiking and I have seen zero warnings about bears. Hmm.

  2. We have coyotes and deer running down the streets of my city, but no bears yet. It’s such a shame that these poor critters are having to adapt to our encroachment.

    Oh, and that bear in the cartoon looks suspiciously like Mickey Mouse.

    1. It does. We’ve had more critters that I expected when we moved here. Deer, skunks, and opossum are common. Probably coyotes, too, but I haven’t seen any. Also lots of owls, hawks, and at night we can get dive bombed by bats in our backyard if we’re not careful.

      1. Sounds like you might be able to start your own wildlife show! Beasts of the Backyard? I did see a hawk take down a blue jay in our neighbors’ yard last summer…ill send you the footage when you get your show up and running 😂

  3. I live in a suburb of LA and if one owns a home with a pool, one must expect bears to drop by for a dip. My brother has had one come full bore down his back mountain, and jump over him as he was drinking his morning coffee on the porch. Even so, it is the mountain lions he worries about, not the bears 😳

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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