By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
HOUSTON – Reports of a black bear sighting in Chickasaw County have local game and fish officers checking into the matter and reminding the public that bears are a protected species.
Amanda D. Bryant spotted the bear as she was driving home on Okolona Cutoff about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday and is certain it was a bear.
“I came around a curve and saw something big in the road and thought ‘a cow has gotten out,’” said Bryant, a graduate student at Ole Miss and employee at the Chickasaw County Health Department. “I stopped and it turned and looked at me. It was right in the middle of the road. I couldn’t believe it. It was a big, very black bear.”
Bryant said she thought about taking a picture, but it was dark and it was a bear. She stayed in her car and called her father.
“I know some people won’t believe it, but I know what I saw,” said Bryant. “It wasn’t a pig, or a dog, or a cow – it was a big, black bear.”
Bryant said the curve is about four or five miles from the intersection with Highway 15.
Lt. Richard Stephens, of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, said his department gladly checks into these incidents, but reminded the community black bear are federally protected and should be left alone. He said Bryant did the right thing in leaving the bear alone and staying in her car.
“They have been known to wander through and we had confirmed reports of a black bear in north Mississippi last year,” said Stephens. “The bears we typically see in Mississippi are small and are the less aggressive black bear.”
Last fall a bear was allegedly spotted by a family driving home from church near Davis Lake.
Wildlife officers have pointed out large wild hogs, which are also black, might be mistaken for a bear at night and are known to run in the area.
“I don’t know what they saw but we want anyone who spots a black bear to contact law enforcement immediately,” said Stephens. “They are a protected animal and we will be glad to respond to your call. I want to add that anyone who shoots a bear in Mississippi can be fined $10,000.”
A black bear was hit and killed by a car in Caledonia several years ago. The Tombigbee National Forrest is near the area where the bear was spotted Wednesday and Stephens said it is big and secluded enough to support bears.
“Bears are scavengers and like to get into garbage,” said Stephens. “If people are worried about bears they should keep their place clean and put out garbage when they know it will be picked up. I also want to point out bears are more scared of you than you are of them.”
Black bears are very rare in Mississippi and the MDWFP estimates Mississippi is home to roughly 120 bears, up from estimates of 50 bears in 2002.
The University of Mississippi adopted the black bear as its on field mascot last year and the rise in black bear sightings across the state has spawned a variety of jokes and puns.
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