Residents say bear sightings on the rise in Suffolk

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There are unwelcome guests showing up in Suffolk neighborhoods.

All week, WAVY.com has been receiving calls and emails from people spotting black bears. One woman even said her neighbor came home and couldn’t get out of her car because a bear had parked itself in her driveway. So we went out to Suffolk Thursday to talk to people about what’s been going on.

For those who haven’t seen the bears firsthand, they say the signs of their presence are pretty clear.IMG_9821-1-1

“The other day the trash cans were knocked over, and I was telling my wife ‘ain’t nothing did that, but a bear,’” said James Daughtery. “I know the people over there said a bear was over there, some people saw him.”

“When I was leaving, I noticed my neighbor’s trash cans were still up,” said Charles Diggs. “We were only gone like 10 minutes, and when I came back they were all down and he still wasn’t home. My other neighbor saw him in his yard when he was tearing his cans up and he said he weighs anywhere from 800 to 1,000 pounds, and said he had a head on him like he’s never seen on a bear, just extremely large.”

And the word is travelling fast. Everyone seems to think it’s been a while since the bears have been a nuisance like they’re becoming this year, but there is one overriding reason they feel they’re back.

suffolkbear1“First time I heard about it I was at Farm Fresh and one of my neighbors said he saw a bear sitting in his backyard,” said Raleigh Ford. “So many homes are here now, so you know they’re running, they don’t have nowhere to go to.”

Vesha Jones saw one of the bears first hand at her sister’s house around 11:30pm Thursday night.  She snapped photos that she sent in to ReportIt@wavy.com.

“I had heard about it,” said Jones.  “My sister said some of her neighbor’s was complaining about a bear being in their trash can. When we pulled up he was just sitting here eating out of the trash can. He had already knocked the trash can down.  He would leave here and go back there to get more food and then he would come back.”

Suffolk spokeswoman Diana Klink said the city has received three complaints about bears recently. She also said it’s not uncommon to see a bear in the area because the Great Dismal Swamp is nearby.

Klink provided the following general information about dealing with bears:

Bears are highly adaptable, intelligent animals and may learn to associate human dwellings with food. Bears are attracted to residential areas by the smell of food around homes. Black bears have a natural distrust of humans, are shy, and usually avoid people.

If addressed quickly, problems are often resolved immediately. After a few failed attempts to find food, bears will usually leave the area and return to more normal wild food items. Bears have tremendous memories and therefore, they may return for as many as 10-14 days looking for these free food sources.

If a bear is on or near your property, do not escalate the situation by approaching, crowding around, or chasing the bear. This also applies to bears that have climbed up a tree. The best thing you can do is leave it alone. Because of bears’ natural distrust of humans, a bear that feels cornered will be looking for an escape route. By keeping people and pets away from the bear, you give it the best chance to come down from the tree and leave your property on its own.

Klink provided the following information with preventative tips for people dealing with bear sightings:

  • Secure your garbage: store garbage indoors, in a shed, in a garage, or in a bear-proof container.
  • Put garbage out the morning of pick-up, not the night before.
  • Pick up pet food. Feed pets only what they will eat in a single feeding or feed them indoors. Remove the food bowl soon after pets finish. Pick up uneaten food. Do not leave food out overnight.
  • Remove the bird feeder: Bears consume seed and nuts found in the wild, so bird feeders become a favored target for bears.
  • Clean the outdoor grill often.
  • Do not put meat scraps or any other strong-smelling food in the compost pile. Consider an enclosed compost bin.
  • Do not leave strong-smelling food in your vehicles.
  • Pick up and remove ripe fruit from fruit trees and surrounding grounds.

Klink said it is illegal to deliberately feed bears on both public and private lands.

If you see a bear, Klink said you should contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and call Suffolk Animal Control so that officials can go out and determine if it’s a public safety issue. If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, you can contact the Suffolk Police Department’s non-emergency dispatch at 757-923-2350, extension 0.

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