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Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!Posted Tuesday, June 3, 2008, at 9:03 PM
Life became just a little more interesting in Advance and Arbor Monday, when this black bear took a notion to climb a cypress tree about half-way between the two towns. The bear furnished everyone in a three-county radius with an entire day's entertainment, until nightfall, when he was allowed to climb down unseen and disappear into what I hope was an remote area to the north. (Bollinger County sounds like a nice place for a cute little "bear cub..")
It started, as it often does, with a phone call from my "contact" in the sporting world.
"Grab your camera! There's a bear in a tree outside Advance!" he said. How does he always manage to show up right behind me, as I'm driving through Advance? Does he have ESP or what?
Out we sped east on Highway 25 about four miles to a large tree standing right beside the highway, where the gravel cuts off south to the Langco plant. I couldn't miss it, since there were cars and trucks lining the highway, as if we were in the middle of the 100-Mile Yardsale again.
People were standing under a big cypress tree, necks craned, cameras clicking - and there he was, sure enough, looking down at us and yawning sleepily - a big, black bear. He didn't seem excited; in fact, he seemed a bit bored.
I was relieved to see an agent from the Missouri Department of Conservation there, since I had visions of some redneck taking target practice in the trees.
"There were about 60 people standing around the tree when I got here," said the officer. "I almost had a heart attack! I told them to stand back and scatter out, and if the bear started to come down, they needed to run for their cars as fast as they could!" Great, my car was parked up on the highway with all the other dopes, and I'd have had to climb a steep embankment to get to it. I eyed the agent's truck and measured the distance...
One man, who had been driving by when the bear ran across the highway, said it was moving FAST. It came from the north along Highway NN and crossed Gerald and Shirley Owens' land, which faces Highway 25. Everyone said that Gerald was the first one to see it. It must have been frightened by the traffic.
By the time I had taken about a dozen pictures from various angles, another Department of Conservation truck had pulled up with another officer. Eventually, there were four conservation agents and the KFVS camera crew and reporter.
My friend Emma (another goat herder) told me last night that when she and her husband went by the suddenly-famous tree about three p.m., there were two highway patrol cars and a sheriff on the site, along with all the neck-craning crowd. There must have been a long line of cars, because she thought they'd gotten caught in a funeral procession.
Anyway, Officer Ken West explained that the bear was a young male, probably about 1-2 years old. He said that most of the time these young males are chased off by their mothers, who are ready to have another cub.
According to West, most of the department's bear calls come from 4 counties - Bollinger, Wayne, Madison, and Iron. This bear had no business in Scott or Stoddard.
"We'll just wait here until everyone leaves," the officer said, reassuringly. "He'll probably come down when it gets dark. The best thing to do is let them be, unless they're causing property damage."
West explained that they had an incident in Poplar Bluff some time back, when a black bear was in a tree downtown. They shot him with rubber bullets, and it just made him mad. I guess they wanted to keep this guy calm.
My friend Emma said that she and her husband came back by the location at six on their way back from Cape, and there were no observers out there. That must have been when the bear shimmied down and headed out. I'm amazed that someone didn't camp out to watch all night.
That's all I know....except for the usual craziness that crops up afterwards. Someone came into the newspaper office in Advance today and tried to tell me that a local farmer in the region was "missing six cows." However, I haven't found anyone who even knows this supposed farmer. The complainant wants the bear relocated, since she lives on the next farm over. She's really ticked off at the Conservation Dep't. (Does that sound familiar?)
I'd be willing to bet that a black bear's range is extensive - probably as much so as the feral yellow labs (recognized by locals in our area as "cougars"). Unlike cougars, however, the black bears seem to be acknowledged by the Missouri Department of Conservation... Of course, it's a little hard to deny their existance, when one is half-way up a cypress tree, staring down at you.
I didn't hear anyone asking, "Are you sure it wasn't a black lab?"
From the dark and scarey hills of Tillman (about five miles from the bear tree)....this is your wary rural reporter Madeline signing off...
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.