After nearly a century and a half, a black bear has finally arrived in Indiana. Despite bordering states with sizable black bear populations, state wildlife officials say that the last official bear sighting in Indiana took place back in 1871—until a young bear was seen last week.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirmed that a wild male black bear was sighted near South Bend in St. Joseph County, and it is believed to have come from Michigan.
“With black bears in some surrounding states, we were expecting a bear to show up eventually,” said Mitch Marcus, Wildlife Section chief for the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. “It’s quite unusual and exciting for a Michigan lakeshore black bear to move this far south. Michigan DNR officials told us this is the southernmost black bear movement in more than a decade.”
The DNR received multiple reports of bear sightings in the area earlier this month and a recently-collected sample of bear scat confirmed their suspicions. According to Marcus, the DNR occasionally receives reports of bear sightings, but to actually confirm one was particularly exciting. However, with the lack of breeding opportunities in the state, officials expect the bear’s trip to be a short one.
“Indiana does not have a breeding population of black bears, and we expect this one to turn back north eventually,” Marcus said.
For now, the young male bear seems content to wander across northern Indiana. Local news reports following the bear’s travels now place it in LaPorte County near Michigan City. It has been seen occasionally raiding bird feeders and like most young bears, has not yet developed a fear of humans. WNDU reported that the bear even left a scat pile on the driveway of one local resident. Wildlife officials are reminding people to not feed the bear and to observe basic bear awareness practices, which can be a bit rusty for a state with no bear population.
Michigan wildlife biologists say they have been tracking the young bear since it left Muskegon. The majority of black bears in Michigan—out of a statewide population of more than 15,000—live in the Upper Peninsula, but occasionally some will wander south. Indiana also once had a thriving bear population until the mid 1800s. Due to commercial hunting and trapping for fur, the last Indiana bear died in 1850. Black bears are now listed in the state as exotic animals and protected under state law.
Note added 6-17-2015: This article’s text originally stated that the last official sighting was in 1971. It was in fact in 1871.