Hungry bears are on the prowl in eastern Oklahoma, where drought conditions seem to have disrupted normal feeding patterns.
The extreme heat is changing bear behavior, said Lance Meek, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation spokesman.
“Be extra cautious around bears this time of year with this heat,” Meek said. “With 30-plus days of 100-degree heat and the animal wearing a black fur coat, their behavior is different.”
The drought has caused a scarcity of blackberries, acorns and wild grapes in parts of Oklahoma, so bears are venturing out in search of hummingbird feeders, deer feeders with corn, dog or cat food bowls and trash cans. Bears are most numerous in southeast Oklahoma but are showing up now in the northeast, Meek said.
Bears spotted north
Gary Hardesty, 67, who lives north of Tahlequah in Cherokee County, has captured photos of bears on his property in recent weeks.
“They're hungry,” he said. “There is just not a lot of foliage out there because it's all drying up. And bears will eat anything.”
Hardesty, who works in Muskogee, said he has heard others say bears have been seen in the area.
He set up trail cameras by hanging them on trees near deer feeders. One day a camera was swatted and took photos of the ground. Another day a corn feeder was smashed and 60 pounds of corn eaten. Two cameras have been bent and broken.
The cameras captured black bear photos June 24 and July 10.
Don't feed the bears
Hardesty said he has stopped putting out corn.
“They'll stay around as long as you feed them,” he said.
Craig Endicott, a state game warden in Cherokee County, said bears were rarely seen there until recent years.
“It's kind of new for us to see them up here,” Endicott said. “Leave them alone and move away from them. Typically a black bear is not aggressive but once it is gone, remove the lure that attracted it to the area.”