Wednesday, Feb 04, 2009

Neponset Bear Captured; May Be First Ever Caught In Illinois

Star Courier

Neponset — The seven-month saga of Bureau County’s black bear came to an end, Tuesday, when authorities tranquilized the animal after it was found sleeping in a drainage ditch east of Neponset.

The sleeping bear was spotted about three weeks ago by Lee Bennett who was riding a four-wheeler on a farm owned by his brother, Robert, east of Neponset, where it had been spotted in late December. The Bennett’s notified authorities who went to work figuring out how best to handle the bruin.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, a wildlife expert from the Quad Cities was called in Tuesday to tranquilize the male bear which was estimated to weigh approximately 200 pounds.

The animal was reportedly in a state of semi hibernation, according to an IDNR statement released Wednesday, which explains why it hadn’t moved from wher Bennett spotted it three weeks ago.

Photo Courtesy Of Cheryl Balensiefen.  Cheryl Balensiefen photographed this black bear southwest of Buda in Bureau County. The bear has been spotted numerous times since it was first sighted last June near Neponset.

The bear was transported to a USDA-licensed wildlife rehabilitation center in southern Illinois that is permitted to possess bears. The origin of the bear is unknown, but it is suspected to have been in human care prior to its release or escape.

The bear was first sighted during the last week in June three times in the Sheffield area. Then, in early September, Ron Miller, of Neponset, spotted the bear along Kentville Road. At the time, it was apparently using standing corn as cover.

Durng a mild spell in late December, cousins Tim and Matt Bennett captured some of the first pictures of the elusive animal as it roamed through a field on the Robert Bennett farm east of Neponset. By that time, several people in the Sheffield, Neponset and Buda reported seeing the bear and indicated that it may have an injured paw.

The Bureau County Sheriff’s Office took an active interest in finding the bear, for the protection of the public, and the bear, itself, and asked anyone seeing the animal to avoid contact and call them so it could be safely removed from the area.

Once they knew where the bear was hibernating, IDNR Conservation Police consulted with federal, state and county wildlife and law enforcement agencies to formulate a plan of response to the bear’s presence. After reviewing several options, officials decided it was best to take the bear alive and place it in an approved facility. Upon arrival at the southern Illinois wildlife center, the bear was reported to be in good health and will receive proper food, shelter and veterainarian care. An investigation is underway to determine the bear’s origin.

Conservationists believe this to be the first documented sighting of a black bear in Illinois in more than 40 years and may be the first documented capture of a black bear in state history.