Urban Adventures Are Over For a Bear on the Lam in Md.

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

In this life, there are wrong turns and then there are wrong turns -- the kind that leave your fuzzy behind trapped between two multi-lane interstate highways and staring down the muzzle of a tranquilizer gun.

During a month-long adventure across Maryland, a young black bear wandered deep into Southern Maryland, through Anne Arundel County and right up to the city limits of Baltimore. He was poised to make history as the first wild black bear in memory to make it on its own into Baltimore when he was given a rude introduction to Charm City.

Wildlife officials caught him late Wednesday night in a moment of weakness, while he was distracted by an alluring apple tree in an Arbutus backyard. They shot the 140-pound bear with a dart, locked him in a steel paddy wagon designed for bears and sent him back west.

"We gave it a lot of opportunities to find its way back, but when he hit Arbutus, that's just a tough place," state bear biologist Harry Spiker said. "Bears just aren't that good at navigating highways."

Officials had been following the bear's progress by tracking calls from surprised, panicked and sometimes amused residents. The first sighting came July 14 in Calvert County, which experts later confirmed with paw prints. On Tuesday, the bear was seen in Severn, pawing his way into a shocked resident's bird feeder. Experts had hoped that the bear, about 2 years old, would stumble across the Patapsco River and follow it northwest back home.

"But as has been the case with this bear, he simply made another wrong turn," said Paul Peditto, director of the state Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service.

By Wednesday night, Peditto was receiving calls reporting the bear in Arbutus, wandering precariously close to Interstate95 and Interstate 695, the Baltimore Beltway. That's when Peditto and others at the Department of Natural Resources decided to make their move.

"Worst-case scenario, you have the bear struck on an eight-lane highway, injured and in close proximity to humans," Peditto said. "That's just a situation likely to end with a bad outcome."

Peditto and others converged on the scene towing a steel drum specially designed to trap bears. But they decided that they shouldn't use it in such an urban area. If they had used the drum -- with fragrant meaty bait and a trap door -- they likely would have caught neighborhood cats and dogs before the bear even got close to it.

So, instead, Peditto got out his state-issued pistol and loaded a three-inch dart packed with 3 CCs of tranquilizing liquids.

The bear, busy munching on an apple tree, never saw it coming. It took two men to move the bear, which turned out to be twice as heavy as the 65 pounds that experts originally estimated.

The bear spent the night at a state facility and was released early yesterday morning in an undisclosed location in Western Maryland. "Let's just say somewhere in Washington County," Spiker said. "That bear's been through a real ordeal the last few weeks. We'd hate for people to get out and look to bother it."

Before they let it go, however, wildlife officials attached identification tags to the bear's ears.

"Frankly, we never hope to hear from him again," Peditto said. But this way, if they ever do see an adventurous bear miles from home on the outskirts of the city, they'll know whether or not it's him.

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