The bear was seen several times starting about 8 a.m. and until nearly 1 p.m. Sunday. And Monday morning, there were three reports to wildlife officials of a few more sightings in the same areas of Hyattsville.
Maryland bear biologist Harry Spiker said it is not uncommon to see a black bear at this time of year even in a more densely populated suburb. “One bear can create a whole lot of sightings,” Spiker said.
The bear is likely traveling through neighborhoods and along stream beds and wooded areas. He said he thinks the bear likely came from Virginia or southern Frederick in Maryland and is likely to end up in the northern part of Frederick County or other more heavily bear-populated areas, including Garrett, Allegany or Washington counties.
“He’s just taking a long, circuitous route,” Spiker said. “He’s taking the long way around.”
He said this one is a bit unique in that bears are usually spotted in the region and then “gone in a week.” This one, he said, is sticking around a bit longer.
Another unusual feature of this bear: It has figured out how to navigate the region’s traffic. Spiker said researchers know this bear has “spent a lot of time next to bigger roads,” including Interstates 70, 95 and 495.
“He’s figured out the big roads and how to cross them without getting hit,” Spiker said, noting the bear has been tracked crossing Interstate 70 at least four times recently.
Last week, the same bear held up traffic along Interstate 70 and U.S. 29 when it paused in the middle of the road. Several passersby stopped to take pictures. At one point, the bear lingered for about three weeks in the Howard County areas of Columbia and Ellicott City.
“It is not going to settle down in this area,” Spiker said. “It is just a matter of how he gets to a more western part where there are other bears.” There are over 1,000 bears living in western Maryland.
Because black bears breed every two years, Spiker said, it is typical that around this time of year the mother bears “kick the youngsters out.” When a mama bear gives birth in January, the cubs stay with the parents for the first year, according to Spiker. But once the next spring comes, the yearlings — as the young bears are called — are “forced to go fend for themselves.”
This bear that’s been seen repeatedly, he said, is likely a youngster. “You’ve basically got a bunch of confused teenagers trying to find their own habitat,” he said of spikes in bear sightings in spring.
Spiker said his office gets plenty of calls from the public asking why they don’t come out and tranquilize the bear and move it. But he noted that’s not an easy process and that it “doesn’t work like it does on ‘Animal Planet,’ ” referring to the TV channel.
He said tranquilizers for the young bears, which can be about 100 to 150 pounds, can take up to 20 minutes to take effect. In that time, the bear has clouded judgment, Spiker said.
“And that’s 15 to 20 minutes that it stands the chance of running into traffic or making things worse for people.”
His advice for those who see a bear — treat it like a stray dog. Give it plenty of space.
“The bear will be running scared,” Spiker said. “He’s had quite the ordeal. He’s just looking for cover.”