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Bear captured after ambling through Centerville, middle school grounds

SoVaNow.com / November 14, 2012
A wayward bear that wandered through Centerville on Tuesday is safe, sound and in custody — and not likely to disturb the peace again any time soon.

The male bear, weighing about 200 pounds, was first sighted in the vicinity of White Oak Drive, near Love Shop, around 5 p.m., before making its way to Apple Mart, then to a neighborhood near The Church of God, and finally to Halifax County Middle School where the animal’s odyssey came to an end around 7 p.m.

Under pursuit by police and animal control, the bear did what bears typically do — climb to avoid trouble. The animal scampered up a tree near the visitors stand at Tuck Dillard Stadium where it remained until a Campbell County animal control officer arrived on the scene with a tranquilizer gun. Minutes after taking a dart, the bear dropped about 12 feet onto the ground, where wildlife biologists from Lynchburg awaited to carry it off.

“One of the lonely boys walking through the neighborhood,” mused County Animal Control Officer Todd Moser, who said the animal was just “trying to get away from everybody” when it clawed its way up the tree following a stressful jaunt through town.

The bear was unhurt in the incident, and authorities say they have no reports of it coming into close contact with people, although one caller apparently spotted a furry intruder rumbling through a backyard. There also are indications the bear wandered into town from an area nearby the Halifax County Country Club, although the manager on duty at there said he had heard nothing about a bear sighting there.
Two Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologists took custody of the animal and transported it to the regional office in Lynchburg. The bear is headed to the state wildlife rehabilitation center near Waynesboro, where it will remain for a few weeks before being released back into the wild on public lands somewhere in Southside or central Virginia.

“We’re not going to take it back to the middle school and turn it loose,” joked Jim Bowman, one of the regional biologists who ventured to the scene Tuesday night.

Bowman called the trap-and-transport mission “about the easiest pickup we could have had” and praised animal control and police for keeping the situation under control. Officers got help from the animal itself: “The bear couldn’t have picked a better spot to be isolated and out of the public eye,” said Bowman.

“That can be a problem at times — when the bear is getting a whole lot of public attention,” he said.

Generally when bears wander into populated areas, “it just takes them a while for them to find their way out,” said Bowman. But in instances where an animal is unable to find an escape route, climbing up a tree is the first response. “If they’re threatened and don’t have a way out, that’s what they’ll do, run up a tree.”

The best advice if you see a bear is to leave it alone: “We advise people to back off, leave him alone, don’t let the public start chasing them and they’ll move on and find their way out,” said Bowman.

With this bear darting up a busy stretch of Route 501 in Centerville, police acted to shoo the animal away from traffic. “He was having a little trouble finding his way out,” said Bowman.

The game department will keep the bear at the Waynesboro facility until the end of bear hunting season in mid-December, at which point officials will let it loose. The animal is in sound condition and should re-adapt to the wild without problem after its harrowing journey this week through the urban jungle.

“Someone told me today that that’s a smart bear — he knew just how to get out of hunting season,” said Bowman.

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