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Beloved Local Connecticut Bear Hit by Vehicle

Bear 211. Credit: Facebook

Black bears, an undeniably charismatic woodland species, often find themselves in locations that are perhaps less than ideal for their survival. Bear 211 – a beloved male bear residing in the Easton area of Connecticut – was no different.

Bear 211 was first handled by state black bear experts when he was a young cub. For future monitoring purposes, he was fitted with permanent plastic red ear tags displaying his identifying numbers: 211. Over the next few months, yearling Bear 211 wandered the area seeking food and viable territory, often finding himself in residential backyards as he wove in and out of forested areas.

His ambling gait and easy identifiers (his tags) led residents to view him as a celebrity of sorts.

Bear 211 even had a Facebook page dedicated to him, filled with thousands of excited residents uploading his whereabouts and antics in their backyards. 211 was documented resting in the crook of a tree branch, splashing in backyard pools, lounging on porches, interrupting birthday parties, pressing his nose against glass windows of homes.

One resident shared a video of 211 chowing down on a barrel of birdseed that had been left unsecured outdoors, easy feeding for a critter like him. Another video showed him boldly wandering into an open garage while the homeowners stood just feet away filming. Discarded pizza boxes were readily visible between the humans and the approaching curious bear. Repeated incidents like these, in addition to suspected deliberate feeding by some residents, led to his rapid and disquieting habituation to people.

Still, residents’ enthusiasm for the bear was palpable. Stickers were printed with a bear print and his numbers displayed in the paw pad. Posts were made daily sharing his location and his latest antics. Bear 211 watched his human fans curiously, seeming unbothered by their proximity during his daily excursions.

Did his local celebrity status lead to his death?

On July 26th, hours after visiting a backyard splash-pad and reportedly lounging just 30 feet away from a Fairfield homeowner’s children, Bear 211 wandered across an Easton road and was struck by a vehicle. His injuries were deemed too severe and he was euthanized by the responding police department.

Bear 211’s Facebook page erupted in eulogies, angry demands to punish the driver, and regrets that Bear 211 had not been relocated to a “safer” area or a rehabilitation center.

Yet one can’t help but wonder if this anger isn’t misplaced.

As Bear 211 sauntered into yards, some folks in the group encouraged residents to haze him. Hazing is the act of scaring an animal away, reinforcing their natural wariness of humans through the use of loud noises and exaggerated movements.

Animals that become habituated to people often pose a threat to public safety, as well as to themselves. Overly-acclimated animals are often lethally removed to prevent harm to human residents. Hazing is a proven technique that deters wildlife and mitigates conflict with humans. Though it may feel cruel to residents that want an animal to experience a moment of respite in the safety of their backyards, hazing saves countless animals’ lives. Perhaps it would have saved Bear 211’s.

Speaking with Hearst Connecticut Media, Will Healey of the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said, “This is another sad outcome resulting from habituation. Bears that become habituated to humans and associate people with food are at much greater risk of being hit and killed by motor vehicles.”

While this was a heartbreaking end to a beloved bear’s short life, it should be a reminder for all to commit to protecting future bears like him. Proactive measures such as hazing and removing attractants can save the lives of our local species. While enthusiasm and appreciation of our wild neighbors is a wonderful thing to foster, all species – charismatic or not – deserve a chance to live wild.