UPDATE: Robert Frazier, Acting Regional Commander for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police, said Friday afternoon that no sightings of the bear have been reported since Wednesday evening when it climbed down from the tree and headed west.
By Kathleen Schultz - Sauk Valley Media
The little black bear that's been wandering around northern Illinois the past few weeks was 20 feet up an oak tree, southwest of Mt. Morris off Lowell Park Road, Wednesday afternoon.
He was being ogled, photoed and filmed by 20 or so people until police came to break up the crowd.
An audience, though, is the last thing he needs. The bear's best chance of survival is for people to keep their distance, so he can find his way back to his natural habitat and does not become accustomed to humans, said Chris Young, a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
"We have been counseling people to leave him alone. So far, it's been going really well, so we're going to keep reiterating that message," Young said.
The bear is likely a young male, pushed out of his home territory by adults and sent off to make his own way in the world, Young said. He's minding his own business, doing what bears do – looking for a home, and probably a mate.
He's also not staying in one place; he's not finding suitable habitat here, and so he seems to be looping his way back toward the Mississippi River, which is a good thing, Young said.
The IDNR does not want to trap him, for a variety of reasons: he's shown no signs of aggression, finding his own habitat is what he's supposed to do, no zoo is going to want him, there's no reason to lock him up in a research facility ... in short, they want to let the bear be a bear.
"If the bear poses a threat, we will have to re-evaluate, but right now it hasn't given us any reason to," Young said.
Illinois once had thousands of black bears, but by the mid-1800s, settlers had harvested them all for their meat and hides, so "it's a special thing that the bear's here," he said.
His rarity, though, is what's making him so popular—he even has his own Facebook page.
The IDNR is keeping track of the little bruin, which was spotted more than a dozen times in DeKalb County last week before being seen Friday afternoon in a large stack of timber on a farm in Ogle County near Rochelle. He was also seen and photographed just east of Chana on Sunday.
Before that, he also was sighted several times in Stephenson, Winnebago and Boone counties, all of which border Wisconsin, where he is believed to have originated.
Earlier on Wednesday, he was spotted in Mt. Morris on several streets including Brayton and McKendrie near Dillehay Park.
Police, and nearly 50 onlookers some in their vehicles, watched as the bear ran from a backyard, crossing McKendrie Street and into nearby cornfields.
He's not the first American black bear to ramble through the region.
According to the Illinois Extension Service, on Feb. 3, 2009 IDNR Conservation Police tranquilized a 200-pound black bear boar that had been roaming Bureau County. It first was spotted in June 2008 near Sheffield; it was near Neponset when it was caught.
That bear, which was thought to have been in the care of humans before being released or escaping, was taken to a USDA licensed facility in southern Illinois.
The little Ogle County bruin probably won't be the last, either. "We can probably expect one from time to time," Young said.
If all goes well, this one should just pad off into his future, wandering off the way he wandered in.
"The best bet is just to let him make his way," Young said.