By VAN HOLLAND
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
ROCKY MOUNT —
Have you ever driven down the road in Edgecombe County and had to take a second look, thinking you saw a black bear? If so, you were probably right and your eyes were not deceiving you.
There have been two black bears killed in the past month that were hit by vehicles on Highway 64. One happened around 7 p.m. Dec. 6 near the Kingsboro exit in the eastbound lane and the other was hit a month earlier near the Edgecombe, Martin County line on the highway.
Monday another bear was hit in Crisp near the intersection of Highway 258 and 124. That bear wasn't killed and ran into the woods.
The bear that was hit Friday weighed approximately 978 pounds, according to the elderly couple who hit the bear and was nearly seven feet tall.
N.C. Highway Patrolman Tim Pope investigated the accident and said that was one of the biggest bears he has seen during his tenure.
"The bear was a fully grown male," Pope said. "After it was hit, it came to rest in the median."
Pope said he has averaged investigating at least one wreck a year involving a black bear. He said most of the wrecks involving the bears were east of Princeville.
Pope said if you hit a bear stay in your vehicle until law enforcement arrives, because the bears could be aggressive if they aren't killed.
There have been a growing number of black bears seen in the county. Six months ago, the elderly couple who hit the bear Friday, said they saw one in their backyard near the Summerfield neighborhood in Tarboro. They said the bear wasn't as big as the one they hit.
In 2006, there was a black bear seen in the Town Common. When the bear attracted attention, it ran up the tree.
According to the N.C. Wildlife website, there were 3,071 bears killed in the state in 2011. Black bears killed in vehicle accidents were 272 and there were 2,776 killed by hunters and the rest were killed in other ways. The number killed is 500 more than was killed in 2010.
Also in 2011, the were observations and complaints on 17 bears in District 3 which includes Edgecombe County as one of the 11 counties in the district. There were a total of 671 seen in the state, according to the website.
Black bears are omnivores which diet of both plants and animals. The plant diet basically consists of grass, roots or farm crops that are in their area.
The black bear varies in color in N.C., but usually are black with a brown muzzle and sometimes have a white patch on their chest, which is commonly referred to as a chest blaze.
All bear species commonly have five toes on each foot and each toe has a sharp curved claw enabling the bear to feed on insects and grubs in decaying logs. Black bears rely on mostly their sense of smell and hearing due to poor eyesight, but are adept at climbing, running up to 35 miles per hour, swimming and digging.
As habitat is developed and human populations increase, it's ultimately human attitudes toward black bears that will determine whether bears will continue to exist in the state. Unfortunately, bears are viewed either as dangerous animals or cuddly pets. It is best to avoid these extreme views and instead show healthy respect for these animals, according to the North Carolina Wildlife website.
Black bears prefer large expanses of uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover. In the east, lowland hardwoods and swamps provide good bear habitat. These types of habitat provide the necessary travel corridors, escape cover and natural foods that bears need to thrive in N.C.
The black bear is the only species found in N.C. or anywhere in the eastern part of the U.S. The successful comeback of the black bear in N.C. represents one of wildlife management's achievements.
Black bears were once restricted to remote areas and reached very low population levels in the mid 1900's. Today, black bears are found on approximately 60 percent of total land area in N.C.
Bears put on additional weight in autumn to prepare for winter denning. They build dens in cavities of live trees, hollow logs, caves, rock outcroppings, cavities in the ground or in a thicket. Usually black bears construct nests of leaves, sticks and grass within the den, which often resemble giant bird nests. In N.C. den entry can occur as early as the end of November or late as the beginning of January. Most bears in N.C. emerge from their dens as early as March depending on the availability of food.
(Information gathered about black bears was used from the N.C. Wildlife website.)