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Bears are roaming around CT right now. (Some are eating cupcakes.) Here’s how to stay safe

In a December 2018 file photo, a state wildlife biologist uses a syringe at the end of a pole to inject Telazol into a young black bear that had climbed up a tree in West Hartford, Connecticut. The bear was relocated.
Rick Hartford / Hartford Courant
/
Tribune News Service / Getty
In a December 2018 file photo, a state wildlife biologist uses a syringe at the end of a pole to inject Telazol into a young black bear that had climbed up a tree in West Hartford, Connecticut. The bear was relocated.

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Bears are roaming around neighborhoods across Connecticut, generating media attention, social media buzz – and warnings from environmental officials.

Two bears were spotted at Avon’s Memorial Day parade over the weekend. Officials in the Hartford suburb said police were able to contain one with a sandbag gun to keep the bear away from the public. But the other bear made its way into the crowd.

A social media video showed people shouting “Bear! Bear!” as the animal walked within feet of spectators. The bear ran down West Main Street in the center of town. The video showed the bear crossing the parade line, weaving between adults and children, including several at an ice cream truck and others seated to watch the parade.

Police on bikes followed the bear into the woods to make sure it would not return to the crowd, town officials said.

The incident follows several high-profile bear-human conflicts in Avon this spring. Statewide, bear home entries reached a record high in 2022, with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) recording 67 incidents. The agency said in a March report that “the number of serious conflicts involving bears is rising each year.”

Avon Animal Control Officer Angela Grano said Wednesday her office is getting many reports of bear sightings from the public this spring.

“I guess the question, ‘Is why are these bears so people-friendly?’” she said.

Her advice to residents: “Please stop feeding the bears. No matter how cute it is. It’s going to get them killed. And it’s going to get them shot.”

Bear feasts on dozens of cupcakes in Avon

Surveillance footage from a bakery in Avon showed a tagged black bear entering a building last week and feasting on dozens of cupcakes that were being loaded for delivery.

The bakery said in a social media post that no one was hurt, but “the bear destroyed 60 cupcakes [and] a bunch of coconut cake.”

Wildlife officials were working last week to trap the bear, using “averse condition” techniques (wildlife officials call that “hazing” the animal) and releasing the bear in the hopes it would not return to the bakery. A spokesperson for the DEEP said the bear was captured Friday evening or Saturday morning. It was hazed and then released right in the area. Relocating the bear elsewhere would make the averse location conditioning pointless, officials said.

According to the DEEP, the bear had a double ear tag. All bears in the state get a double ear tag (one in each ear) the first time the agency handles the animal, regardless of why it was tagged.

“Most tagged bears have not been caught as problem bears, but rather as part of a project to research the state’s bear population,” the agency said in an email.

Bear euthanized in April after attacking Avon walker

Other bear conflicts in Avon have been more serious.

In late April, a 74-year-old woman was attacked by a black bear while walking her dog.

The woman's injuries were not considered life-threatening and she was transported to a local hospital. The bear was found and euthanized.

State officials said the woman was walking her dog on a leash in the early morning along Berkshire Crossing Road when a female black bear approached her and bit her.

"In these situations, public safety is DEEP’s top priority," the agency said. "An attack on a human is a category 4 response, meaning humane euthanization of the bear."

The bear was in the area with three yearling cubs, but it is unclear why the bear attacked, said Jenny Dickson, the director of the wildlife division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Expert urges people to be bear friendly

Grano discouraged residents from putting out bird feeders as bears emerge from hibernation and said anyone walking their dogs needs to ensure their animals are on a leash. She said residents who have backyard chicken coops also need to be responsible, and put up an electric fence to keep bears – often mothers looking to feed cubs – away from backyard chickens.

“I just spoke to a resident yesterday [who said] the bear was in his chicken coop and he shot it,” Grano said. “If we’re going to have chicken coops in our backyard we have to … put a little bit of an electric fence around it. It is the greatest deterrent to a bear.”

The DEEP says more than 85% of livestock conflicts with bears in recent years involve backyard chickens.

Grano said nearby Simsbury has also seen a lot of sightings – one possible consequence of human development and encroachment into bear habitat.

Meanwhile, breeding populations of bears continue to expand into more cities and towns. In a March report, the DEEP said “just seven years ago, sows were reported in less than 50 towns, while over the last two years, sows have been reported in over 90 different towns.”

As populations expand, Grano said joggers and hikers should wear bells or carry a horn to scare off bears when venturing into the woods.

If residents do encounter a bear, she said, call the DEEP to report it, and more than anything else, she said, don’t feed the bears.

“Do not willingly throw donuts and hot dogs and other items to bears,” Grano said. “It ends up getting that bear hurt. And I think this is, partly, why some of these youngsters have no fear of people. Because they’ve been fed by people.”

Tips: If you encounter a bear

DEEP and BearWiseoffer these other tips to handle bear encounters:

  • If you see a bear in your yard: Do not approach it. Quietly move away. Go into your house, garage, or other structure.
  • If a bear approaches: Go on the offensive — shout, wave your arms, and throw sticks or rocks. Yell "Hey, Bear!" until it leaves.
  • If a bear doesn't back away: Fight back with anything available. Use bear spray if it's available. If you are attacked, do not play dead. (Black bears rarely attack humans.)
  • Keep dogs on a leash: A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
  • Don't crowd around a bear: Bears climb a tree to avoid people. A crowd of people will stress the bear and add to the risk that the bear will be chased into traffic or the crowd.

Learn more

Here’s a map of reported black bear sightings and bear-human conflicts in Connecticut.

Connecticut Public's Michayla Savitt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.