Monday, June 12, 2006

Bear trapped at mall returned to mountains

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DULUTH, Ga. - An 85-pound American black bear was put back in its natural environment Monday after being tranquilized and captured outside Gwinnett Place mall.

The bear was spotted at trash bins near the mall's J.C. Penney store about 10:15 p.m. Sunday, according to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Two Gwinnett Sheriff's Department deputies and two police officers responded. Police spokesman Cpl. Darren Moloney said one of the officers fired at the bear with his handgun after it charged at him as he left his car.

The bear apparently was unharmed by the gunshots, said Don McGowan, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The bear skulked off, and Gwinnett County Animal Control arrived to tranquilize the animal.

It was later taken to a DNR employee's home in Oconee County to be watched overnight.

Officials planned to release it Monday afternoon into the northeast Georgia mountains in Habersham County.

So what was a black bear doing in a mall parking lot?

Bears stay in wooded areas as much as possible, McGowan said. But seeing a bear in human territory is an increasingly common occurrence in Georgia and other states, especially during their mating season in the summer.

Most of these bears are young males that are pushed out of their areas in northern Georgia by older, dominant males, according to McGowan.

"[The young males] try to establish territory of their own," McGowan said.

The problem, he said, is that these bears are becoming accustomed to human food sources, including one of their most popular staples — birdseed.

"It's very hard to break that habit," McGowan said.

Females and cubs also have been found in Duluth, Norcross and other areas, said McGowan, indicating that these bears are reproducing.

"They are proving to be pretty adaptable," he said.

Another black bear, aptly named Troublesome Tribble, was found near Tribble Mill Park in March, helping himself to backyard bird feeders and making residents of the area both curious and cautious.

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