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Black bears, the largest land mammals of South Carolina, once roamed the entire state. As human populations increase and development encroaches on their territories, there is more the likelihood of bear & human encounters.

Black bears are excellent climbers and good swimmers.     Bears prefer large expanses of forestry containing hardwoods, shrubs, blackberries, and pokeberries.  Wetlands such as swamps and bays also provide good habitat.   However, black bears are adaptable.  As long as they can find adequate food sources and have suitable den sites, black bears can be found in a variety of habitats..  They will feed on whatever is readily available.

Their natural diet consists of berries, nuts and plant matter (over 80 percent) as well as insects and meat (less than 20 percent). Bears use their incredible sense of smell to find alternative food sources such as garbage, bird feeders, outdoor pet food, agricultural crops, etc., which can result in them becoming nuisance bears. A shortage of natural food sources and lack of rainfall can cause home ranges to vary greatly. Black bears will travel large distances to find adequate food sources. In addition, juvenile bears, especially the males, must disperse to find new home territories. Dispersing juvenile bears have been sighted in many counties in South Carolina. These bears are usually transient and do not stay in the area for long.

Male black bears are generally larger than females. An average adult male can weigh between 150 - 350 pounds while the female averages between 100 -250 pounds. However, when food is plentiful, older bears have been documented at weights above 400-500 pounds. The largest black bear recorded in South Carolina was 609 pounds.  Their average life expectancy is 18 years in the wild.

Tammy Wactor, wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said there is an estimated 800-1,000 black bears across South Carolina, with most found in the more heavily forested and mountainous Upstate region, and a smaller population of 300-400 bears in the coastal areas (as of July 11, 2015).

Bears emerge fron their dens and come out looking for food in the spring ~ the peak of their breeding season is June, July, sometimes early August. They are most active at this time of year, and that, combined with habitat depletion, makes it more likely for humans to encounter them, and vice versa, said Kayla Brantley, a state bear biologist based in Horry County.

A state Department of Natural Resources official said it’s not a surprise that a bear was spotted crossing a street near homes just north of Myrtle Beach.

Black bears are not generally aggressive even when confronted by humans. However, due to their size, they need to be respected. No injuries or deaths have been attributed to black bears in South Carolina.

If you encounter one in your back yard like someone In the area of old Route 17 did recently when the bear was investigating their backyard cook-out (they left it and retreated into their home (and the bear had a gourmet meal).     If you find yourself in this situation, don’t corner the animal or make it feel threatened.   Stand your ground, and some say to raise your arms to appear larger.   Don't run.  Slowly back up, keeping your eye on the bear (not eye contact)  and try to put more space between you and the bear.  Talk calmly so that it can identify you as human.   A good way to steer clear of any run-ins with a wild animal is to secure trash, take down any type of animal feeder at night and keep grills clean.

Marie Coppola  January 2017