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Once an abundant mammal roaming Mississippi’s forests, the black bear has all but disappeared from the landscape since Teddy Roosevelt’s famous hunt. In the past, residents were fortunate to catch a glimpse of Mississippi’s largest and elusive land mammal.
However, bears are returning to the Magnolia State and are being reported in areas where they were believed to be absent.
"Black bears historically roamed throughout Mississippi but extensive land alteration and hunting in the late 1800s and early 1900s squeezed the bear population numbers to almost nonexistent," said Brad Young, black bear program leader for Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. "Today less than 100 black bears are found in the state."
Young added that most of these bears are coming into the Delta region from Arkansas and Louisiana.
To understand the return of the black bear and hopefully improve its numbers, scientists in Mississippi State University’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center are working with the state’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. The study hopes to identify areas that bears utilize which can assist in habitat conservation.
"We know that bears have widespread home ranges and opportunistic, going to where the food is available," said Jerry Belant, principal investigator and wildlife and fisheries assistant professor. "There ferocious appetite can sometimes lead them to different habitats."
To determine the movements, habitat selection and survival, scientists are outfitting the bears with radio-collars.
"If we can determine areas in which they travel and use, we can improve the connectivity of the landscape, encouraging bears to return to their native home," Belant said.
The goal of their research is to ensure future generations will have the opportunity to witness the black bear thriving in its native habitat.