© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How many black bears are there in Missouri?

A map of the distribution of black bears in Missouri based on observations from 1989-2010.
(Black Bear Project website)

The current answer to that question is unclear, the Kansas City Star says, but in the last two years, scientists with the Missouri Black Bear Project have tagged 108 bears in Missouri.

Now, scientists have begun the third year of a project to document the increasing number of black bears in the state.

Hundreds of wildlife cameras and hair snare traps are in place around the state, ready for the Missouri Department of Conservation to count the bears and document their movements.

The scientists trap the bears using tubs of stale doughnuts and honey-laced dog food. The animals are then sedated so researchers can attach a collar with a GPS transmitter. The bears also are weighed, measured and have teeth and hair pulled for further studies.

Here's a video from the project's website that shows the methods and process involved in Phase I of the project:


A native population

DNA genotyping can trace a bear's lineage from Arkansas or Canada and the project teams have also discovered a true Missouri native bear population.

Conservation resource scientist Jeff Beringer said the bears, which were once considered extinct in Missouri since the 1940s, had instead retreated deep into forests, parks and private acreage.

"They never left," he said.

The research already has discovered that female bears stay within a 30-mile radius; males, which can grow to 900 pounds, sometimes travel hundreds of miles. The bears have been found in 23 counties in southern Missouri.

On the Black Bear Project website, a map (which you can explore above) shows the bears have moved north through the Ozarks nearly to St. Louis. Beringer said he wouldn't be surprised to hear a bear was spotted near Kansas City.

Black bears are shy around humans and Beringer wants them to stay that way, warning that "A fed bear is a dead bear. Don't feed them. Keep them wild."