January 20, 2012 11:43:00 PM
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS -- The Louisiana black bear was so scrawny when it was captured rooting through garbage about about a year ago, officials sent it to a rescue center to get healthy. There, it filled out its frame to 104 pounds and taught an orphaned cub how to forage and fear people.
Eight months after it was released back into the wild, the bear was gunned down in Mississippi.
"I haven't heard of this happening before, at least in the Southeast. It's got to be extremely rare," said Tom MacKenzie, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's regional spokesman.
An Amite County, Miss., man could face federal charges because Louisiana black bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The bear, dubbed Kris because it arrived at the Tennessee rescue center shortly before Christmas 2010, did well in the wild -- agents estimated its weight at about 200 pounds when it was shot.
"It's just very devastating," said Lisa Stewart, curator of Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend, Tenn. "We had an opportunity where he shared his experience with a younger cub. Then he went back in the wild. He was never a nuisance. He was doing what bears do."
A tipster contacted authorities about the bear shooter, said Brad Young, black bear program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. MacKenzie would say only that authorities are investigating.
The bear's travels began in the south Louisiana town of Centerville. It was caught going through garbage there and taken to the rescue center.
The only other bear at the shelter was a cub of another, larger black bear subspecies that apparently lost its mother to a poacher in Virginia. The cub was dubbed R.A.
R.A. and Kris didn't get along at first. But soon the younger cub was mimicking the elder when Stewart would get too close -- moaning, clicking front teeth together and nosily letting their breath out. Those are intimidation displays by bears that people often mistake for signs of imminent attack.
"Every time I would get too near the containment area, he would retreat with those noises -- and the cub would follow him and copy him," she said.
That delighted her because it showed that both bears feared and mistrusted people, as wild animals should, she said.
Louisiana black bears -- one of 16 black bear subspecies -- are small. The much-younger R.A. outweighed Kris by almost 40 pounds by the time they were released in April.
Kris was set free in Louisiana's Red River Wildlife Management Area, which runs along the Mississippi River above Simmesport.
Young said he received an anonymous tip Dec. 19, saying the bear had been killed in the Busy Corner community of Amite County, about 50 miles east of its release point. An ear tag identified it. The bear was found Dec. 28.
Nobody knows how long it had been in Mississippi. But the Mississippi River isn't a big obstacle to a healthy bear, said Maria Davidson of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Arkansas wildlife agents have documented mother bears swimming the river with their cubs, she said.
"Bears are kind of a high-fat animal. They float well and they're good swimmers," she said.
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