Imagine waking up to a rustling in the backyard, groggily stumbling to the porch and coming face-to-face with a bear. That was the a frightening reality for a handful of San Luis Obispo residents who witnessed a total of four bear sightings in a matter of twelve days.
The first reported sighting occurred in a neighborhood on San Luis Drive on June 15 around midnight. From there the bear lumbered to Flora and Sydney streets, where it was spotted a second and third time on consecutive nights. It was most recently seen roaming around the vicinity of Andrews Court and Corralitos Avenue, an area which closely borders bear habitat, said Bob Stafford, Associate Wildlife Biologist for the San Luis Obispo County Department of Fish and Game.
The bear was a black bear that weighed approximately 500 pounds according to police reports. It likely visited the neighborhoods in search of food as it destroyed a chicken coop at one of the first homes.
According to Stafford, bears are more prominent between late spring and early fall. This is the season when young bears are forced to find food on their own, and this coincides with the time period during which bears seek out food to store up before denning begins.
Local police were called to the scene in each incidence.
The police’s first tactic is to “try to shoot the bear back into its own territory,” sergeant Jeff Booth of the San Luis Obispo Police Department said. “We try to drive them out with sound, sirens and lights.”
Stafford said this strategy is generally more successful than attempting to capture the bear. After several failed attempts to do so, officers of the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) tried a different strategy.
A press release from the California DFG stated that after unsuccessfully using pepper balls and rubber bullets to chase away the bear, it was finally caught in a live trap and euthanized Tuesday night.
Stafford said authorities typically would not trap a bear unless it was in the city and could not safely return to its habitat without posing a threat to drivers.
“It could (have been the same bear),” Stafford said. “There’s a number of bears in that area.”
According to Booth, bear sightings are rare for the average citizen. Still, he said it is important for citizens to be informed about how to prevent an encounter and about what they should do if they do come in contact with a wild animal.
Kinesiology junior Kristin Constanzo said she did not know how she would react if she came in contact with a bear.
“I know there are those rules about seeing bears and mountain lions and things, but I always get them mixed up,” she said. “I can never remember which animals you’re supposed to get big for and which animals you’re supposed to be small and still around. Honestly, I’d probably be frozen. Maybe I’d try to hide.”
Stafford said that the most important thing to do is to give the animal space. “You don’t want to corner it,” he said, “and with carnivores, you don’t want to turn and run from it.” According to Stafford, this could incite a chase.
If a citizen were to come in contact with a bear, he or she should try to appear large, make noise, face the bear, and fight back if attacked, according to a news release from the San Luis Obispo Police Department.
Check the California Department of Fish and Game website for more safety tips.