By GERALD HERBERT and JANET McCONNAUGHEY | Associated Press
MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — A young black bear has been a backyard spectacle in a central Louisiana neighborhood where he has spent the past week up one tree or another as he searches for a new home.
The bear is among three to five that have wandered into populated parts of Louisiana in the past 10 days, said wildlife biologist Maria Davidson, head of the large carnivore program for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
It's on the outskirts of Marksville. Another has been spotted in Jonesville, about 35 miles north-northeast of Marksville, since Thursday or Friday, Davidson said.
It's the season when mother bears chase off yearling cubs so they won't be attacked by any big males that come calling. Females often wind up within visiting distance of mama, but males aren't allowed to.
“It's somewhat nature's way of preventing inbreeding,” Davidson said.
The males, about 11/2 years old and 125 to 150 pounds, go on cross-country jaunts.
This one showed up in Marksville about May 10, Davidson said Sunday evening.
“That's my little grandchild,” joked Patsy Trevillion. “I've been watching that bear since Wednesday.”
That's when she spotted him about 20 to 25 feet up the big water oak between her yard and that of next-door neighbor Dennis Carmouche.
Carmouche said he got home from work that day and saw the bear in the tree.
“I was shocked, amazed, `What's a bear doing in my yard?”' he recounted.
Trevillion was outside. “I hollered at her,” he said.
Trevillion called a game warden she knows. She said he told her, “Tell everybody to back up and maybe he will leave.”
But the bear hung around, apparently too frightened to leave.
“They're still young enough that when they sense danger, their first instinct is to go up a tree,” Davidson said. “They know they're safe up a tree, even though it happens to be right in the middle of a neighborhood.”
After a couple of days, state biologists set a trap in Carmouche's yard. The bear went in, chowed down on the bait, and trundled back out without stepping on the trigger plate and closing the trap.
He's also made a nest of branches in the tree, she said.
On Sunday, Trevillion said, biologist Ken Moreau made the trap a bit trickier, putting doughnuts under the trigger plate. He also put cat food or tuna into a tube like an 8-ounce water bottle, which he was attaching to the end wall to make the bear work to get at it.
Bear-watching isn't unmitigated joy for Carmouche. “I've got a little 7-year-old girl. We can't let her go outside by herself. My wife has got a little daycare at home. We've got to keep the kids in,” he said.
The bear is comfortable going in and out of the trap, and sooner or later he will step on the trigger plate, Davidson said.
Carmouche posted late Monday on Facebook that the bear did apparently step on the plate but was able to get out again.
Davidson said that might happen if the bear's foot was sticking out of the trap when the door came down. She said authorities may have to switch to a different trap with a different trigger. Once he's caught, the bear will get a standard workup: blood and DNA samples, ear tag, and microchip. She also plans to fit him with a GPS collar that will take a location every three hours. “It will give us a really good idea how a dispersing animal can pick and choose his way through a fragmented landscape,” she said.
Trevillion said she watches the bear for hours at a time. When she's inside, her pit bull's barking alerts her as the bear climbs up or down, or someone comes into the yard.
“If and when he does leave, I'm sure going to miss him, Trevillion said.
AP reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed from New Orleans.