Sometimes You Get the Bear...
A few weeks ago I read with great excitement that Eagle C43 was spotted in Indiana.
C43 is significant not just because she is the seventh oldest eagle on record but also because she dates all the way back to the earliest days of the eagle reintroduction program in Indiana.
After the initial joy of reading about her survival and re-sighting, I was left with a touch of envy. “Man,” I thought, “why can’t WildIndiana get a scoop like that? What an incredible story!”
Then, just a few days later, I was alerted to a social media post about an alleged bear sighting in central Indiana. I instantly realized that here was our chance!
Coincidentally, it turned out that I was acquainted with the person reporting the sighting and soon thereafter I was able to speak with the witness via telephone. During our conversation the person gave such specific information that there was no way they could be wrong. I was given specific landmarks for reference, where the witness had parked, at what angle to the road and the direction of the setting sun. Best of all, I was given an exact description of the bear…and her cub.
“What? A cub, too? This is gonna blow up the WildIndiana website!” I contemplated hopefully. I could see misidentifying one animal, but not two!
As I drove to the area the next morning, it was hard to contain the excitement. Was it likely this was a wild goose, er, bear-chase? Yeah. The likelihood of a mother bear and cub living unseen in the area was very low. “But,” I reminded myself, “the story was spot-on with specifics. It really could be true!” These are the conversations one has with oneself while aiming a Jeep at what could possibly be the next C43 story.
Indiana has a long history of once native animals returning to thrive again. Deer and turkey were both scarce in many areas of the state until the Indiana Department of Natural Resources stepped in to boost the dwindling populations.
Sometimes, other species have upstaged state government and appeared on their own. Shortly before river otters were to be reintroduced to southern Indiana, a trapper contacted the Lake Monroe office to report he was reasonably sure there was an otter in his trap in the eastern backwaters of the lake. A team was assembled to check the situation. Lo and behold, there it was: an otter caught by the paw in a #1 ½ muskrat trap. The animal was unharmed aside from some bruised toes and after documentation it was promptly released back into the wild.
Other animals have mysteriously showed up over the years as well. There was the emu of Shawnee Bluff and every year piranha are caught in local waters. Of course, there have always been stories of black panthers and cougars roaming the wilds of the deepest Hoosier woodlands.
For a long time they were just rumors until technology caught up to reality in 2010 when we actually had a confirmed, undeniable sighting of a mountain lion in Greene County on a trail camera.
Was this a truly wild cat that wandered in from a viable population elsewhere? That is possible, as young males will strike out to look for territory of their own, or was this the former ‘pet’ of an over-zealous animal lover who could no longer care for it? Regardless, there it was, right on the outskirts of Bloomfield.
We have even had a confirmed wild wolf killed in northern Indiana in 2003 but now a bear? AND a cub? It sounded far too good to be true but the report was certainly worth an investigation.
After driving to the exact spot as directed, and getting out of the Jeep, lining up said landmarks, there it was: the location of the sighting was right before me EXACTLY as described. This was looking good.
“WildIndiana is going to get two billion hits and break the internet…just as soon as I located these bears,” I thought.
Carefully walking to the spot where the animals were seen, I scanned every inch of the freshly sprouted bean field for sign. The dirt was dry and chalky but not so firm that it wouldn’t hold sign. The conditions were perfect for tracking.
At the exact spot where I was told to look, something large had apparently made its way from a hay field into the beans. It was big. My heart rate was steadily increasing and my senses were tuned to the earth.
Then, right where described, were the footprints! They were the only ones around that area and they were right where I was told to look!
Running the tracks through my brain for analysis, it was obvious: they were clearly, unmistakably that of…a cow.
In a moment of sheer disappointment everything became crystal clear. From a distance the hay field didn’t appear very tall but in reality a bear would have to be the size of a Kodiak grizzly to be seen. The height of the grass must have made the head or rump appear detached from the body, giving the appearance of two animals.
After a short bit of tracking I apprehended the suspect. The farmer was happy to get his young bull back but he looked at me like a complete lunatic as I told the story that brought me to his gate that day.
Driving home deflated and disappointed that we didn’t get our ‘scoop,’ I was also relieved. Relieved, because I don’t know what I’d have done if I actually came across mother bear and her cub: “Tonight at eleven, outdoor writer eaten by bear near Morgan Monroe State Forest!”
I got home and immediately called WildIndiana publisher Brent Wheat to tell him of the adventure and how close we were to being as big as the Animal Planet network. He chuckled and asked me if I’d seen the news: a bear was verified in northern Indiana earlier that day, and it was all over the media.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how sometimes you get the bull and sometimes the bear gets you!
photo: CC Wikimedia Commons