A North American black bear that wandered onto the property of the Hawthorne Army Depot is dead.
The ill-fated bear first appeared on HWAD property on Aug. 26 when it wandered into the housing area of the base. Safety and Security was summoned and chased the bear off, Lucy Engebretsen, HWAD administrative officer, wrote in a news release.
The bear re-emerged the next morning, Aug. 27, and again wandered into the housing area.
“Because a bear in the housing area posed a potential risk to residents and employees, Security deployed additional personnel in the area,” Engebretsen wrote. “Security tried to chase the bear from the property before children moved toward the bus stop in the morning on Aug. 27.”
The efforts to chase away the bear failed, and it climbed a tree between two houses. The bear ventured onto a branch that couldn’t support its weight.
The branch collapsed, and the bear fell to its death. The bear appears to have broken its neck in the fall, said Chris Healy, NDOW spokesman.
Healy said the age of the bear is still unclear. It could have been a large cub born this year (usually around February), or a small yearling bear. NDOW veterinarians will perform a post-mortem examination to confirm the bear’s age, and if it had any other health problems, Healy said.
Healy said the bear probably wandered onto the base looking for food.
While the local species of black bear aren’t generally garbage bears between August and October they sometimes wander into populated areas looking for food, Healy said.
Healy said NDOW placed a bear trap on the outskirts of Walker Lake in the afternoon of Aug. 27, although he asked its location not be printed because in some parts of the state residents who report bear sightings to NDOW are harassed by their neighbors.
Residents have reported at least two bears in the Walker Lake area — a sow and at least one cub. Healy said it’s not yet clear if the bear that died at the depot was this bears cub.
“The bears that we’re trying to trap near Walker are not considered a public safety problem at this point,” he said.
He also noted it’s possible the sow had two cubs, and one of the twins died on Aug. 27.
When bears are captured by NDOW, rangers use a technique called adverse conditioning to keep the bears away from populated areas, Healy said.
“Once we have the bear in the trap and right as we release it, we shoot rubber bullets at it and chase it with Karelian bear dogs, using all of the tools available to us in our aversion conditioning program,” said Carl Lackey, NDOW biologist. “The goal is to make the bear uncomfortable and make it think twice before coming back to civilization.”
Karelian bear dogs are a breed of dog from the Karelian Peninsula in Finland.
The dogs are built like stocky Dobermans, but have coloring like a border collie.
They are bred to hunt grizzly bears, moose and other large game critters.
Healy said the dogs and rubber bullets are used to try to create a negative association with humans in the bears’ mind.
The bear’s hibernation cycle is likely the reason it was on the base, Healy said.
Black bears go through a four-phase hibernation cycle: hibernation; waking hibernation, a sort of intermediary phase in which the bear is only partially aware and less active and its metabolism hasn’t returned to normal; normal activity; hyperphagia; and the fall transition, in which the bear’s metabolism slows as it prepares to hibernate.
During this time the bears enter a phase called hyperphagia, when they eat as much as 10 times as much as normal to help prepare for hibernation. During hyperphagia, black bears eat about 35,000 calories a day.
To match that level of caloric intake, a human would have to eat almost 64 Big Macs per day.
If that person kept the diet up for a long as a bear does, by the end of October he or she would eat about 4,000 Big Macs, enough to fill nine-and-a-half 55-gallon drums.
Healy said he was saddened to hear of the bears’ fate in Hawthorne, because of the regard NDOW holds the creatures in.
“Our bears are highly valued,” he said. “Despite all the controversies that go around — we’re accused of not loving our bears — we really do love our bears, they really are such spectacular animals.”