Where the wild things still are . . .
An old friend sent news of a female black bear and its three cubs shot recently near my Ozark hometown of Salem, Arkansas -- though not the specific bear pictured above, I presume, since the man doing the shooting wasn't aiming to take photos.
Local reporter Clover Birdsell, writing for the Area Wide News (October 21, 2009), tells us in "Bears shot at Union home" that a fellow named Bruce Knapp from Pineville, Arkansas shot the bears at his mother's home in Union, Arkansas, which is about ten miles of my hometown on Highway 9 and just a few miles north of Oxford . . . in other words, about the same place where my son, En-Uk (with help from his sister, Sa-Rah), was catching his world-record catfish last summer.
The shooting seems to have been done out of fear, not bravado, or so I gather from the details provided to Birdsell by Brian Gaskins, a wildlife officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:
"(Knapp's mother) was a bit scared because of the bears," Gaskins said. She had been in the home at the time the bears were discovered. "We've had reports of bears out there for many years, but this was her first time seeing them so she was kind of shook up."People generally consider bears to be dangerous, and bears certainly are when they feel threatened, but attacks on humans are rare, and Gaskin has never even had to deal with an agressive black bear in Arkansas during his nearly quarter-century of service:
The aunt pulled up in her vehicle and saw the bears. Her presence startled the sow that then jumped into the dog pen, next to the house where Knapp's mother remained. The dog pen was covered by a solid wooden fence facing the street, Gaskin said.
The aunt began honking her horn, and the sow jumped out of the dog pen over the fence. One of the three cubs went up a tree about 20 yards from the front porch of the residence. The sow went with her cub. The other two cubs were across the road, where they remained while the aunt and mother called Knapp, Gaskin said.
Knapp then came over to discover the sow and her cub making noise in the tree. He shot the sow and cub then proceeded across the road and shot the other two cubs, who had become startled and were making noises, Gaskins said.
Gaskins has served in the AGFC since 1985. He has observed the black bear in its native Arkansas habitat, and has never had to handle an incident where a black bear was showing aggression toward a human, he said.For the record, however, I should note that black bears have been known to prey on human beings, albeit rarely:
Offensive or "predatory" or "predaceous" attacks on humans by black bears do occur but are very rare. During the period 1900-2003, there have been 52 human fatalities from black bears, more than 80% of which were predatory in nature. Of these, 5 have occurred in Alaska, 11 in the lower 48 USA, and the remainder in Canada. Non-fatal predatory attacks are more frequent but still rare. The trend of bear-inflicted injuries -- at least in Canada -- has grown along with the human population. Predatory attacks have typically been in remote or rural areas, probably where bears have little or no experience with people, and almost always have involved male bears. Persons most at risk have been those hiking, fishing, berry picking or working in remote areas. In British Columbia between1960-1997, 77% of black bear attacks involved such persons. Recently, there is some indication that predatory attacks are increasing in more settled areas, although data are yet sparse. Wounded bears and sows protecting young are a small component of the serious injuries or fatalities from black bears.As you see from this information provided by Mass Wildlife, "Black Bear Problems and Control," such attacks are rare, though a comment left by one reader of Birdsell's article provided a link to a 2006 report of a fatal, apparently predaceous black bear attack on a child in Tennessee.
In the Arkansas case described by Birdsell, however, the bears seem not to have been aggressive. The fact that the female bear followed its cub up a tree suggests that the sow was afraid rather than predaceous. Leaving the bears alone would probably have resolved the situation -- though we'll never know for sure now.
According to the report, Knapp will probably have to pay a fine of $100 to $1,000, so I suppose that he will likely have learned an expensive lesson on the cost of shooting bears, for the days of unlicensed hunting for "Old Slewfoot" are long gone.