Illinois sees influx of black bears passing through

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Illinois residents may be surprised to see some large, furry visitors over the next couple of months as black bears are making their way down from Wisconsin and passing through Illinois in increasing numbers.

Eric Schauber, Illinois State biologist and director of the Illinois Natural History Survey, said Illinois usually sees an influx during springtime. Young male bears are likely the kind to be seen passing through in Illinois, he adds.

“They can move quite a ways, and that’s especially true of young males,” Schauber said.

“They will disperse away from the area where they were born and seek out new places to establish a home range and look for mates.”

The bears are likely heading toward Missouri and Kentucky where there are more hardwood forests and available food like acorns and hickory nuts, Schauber said.

“The kind of landscape we have in southern Illinois, it’s not good habitat so they’re going to keep moving until they find an area that looks more suitable and a place where they can find other bears,” Schauber said.

While black bears strive to avoid humans, they could end up anywhere, Schauber said.

“When a bear is moving through unfamiliar territory, it’s not going to know where food might be, where cover might be, where risky areas might be and so it’s tough to predict where they might end up,” Schauber said.

Schauber warns that pretty much anything is food to a bear, from skunk cabbage to rotting roadkill, so he suggests minimizing food sources around the house if you don’t want a scavenging visit.

“If there are indications that a bear might be around, then that would be a good time to take your bird feeder down, make sure your trash can is stowed away, those kinds of things,” Schauber said.

If an individual does encounter a black bear, Schauber said to remember they don’t want to be there any more than you do.

“The thing to do is not run, remain calm and let the bear know you’re there, and start moving away from it,” Schauber said. “So if it is going in a particular direction, let it. Let it go that direction, and give it as much space as you can. In the very rare case where the bear takes an interest, you want to stand your ground and make louder noises to let the bear know that you know it’s there, and it will likely move on.”

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