Some said it was just a rumor that a Black Bear (ursus Americanus) was spotted on Daufuskie Island in 2011. Yet this sighting is much more likely than most would think. With humans encroaching upon black bear’s native territory, it’s no wonder they are branching out into new lands.
There are approximately 600,000 American Black Bears in the United States. These bears used to roam throughout all of South Carolina, but many factors have previously concentrated their numbers into our densely forested uplands and midlands. With a continuously growing population of 900 bears in the South Carolina mountains and about 225 bears along the coast, it’s no wonder they are heading into new areas.
Black bears are excellent swimmers; they are very capable of swimming through our salt marshes, rivers and water systems to access many of the islands throughout Beaufort County, but they are a very rare sight in our area. If they are spotted, they are generally transient animals that have strayed far from their natural homes. As the weather begins to cool down in October and November, they will most likely head back to their densely wooded origins to hibernate through the winter.
As human populations continue to grow, our developments are spreading into black bear territory. This means that the bears are making a natural progression into new areas looking for food, mates and territory to claim. Our islands are fertile with fruits, nuts, grasses and berries that the bears like to eat. Black bear’s diets are 85% vegetation, but they will also eat fish, insects and small mammals. In our area, if a bear were to be seen, it would be in the summer months when we have a plethora of fresh vegetation for them to consume.
In 2010, black bears were reported in every county in South Carolina, except for Bamberg County which is just northwest of Beaufort County. Forty-five sightings were reported along our South Carolina coast.
According to Daufuskie locals, there was one positive sighting of a black bear around dusk in August. Another Daufuskie local, Mary Bryan said, “I saw a large black animal in the woods while walking my dog. The dog stopped and turned in the other direction.” Mary, not knowing what it was, decided to follow suit. While it may be a misinterpretation, there is still plenty of information to support black bears being in Beaufort County.
So far, there have been no injuries or deaths related to black bears in the state of South Carolina. However, feeding bears either directly or indirectly could be a factor in changing these statistics.
As their population continues to grow and black bears begin to spread throughout our state, it’s important to educate oneself on protection. Keep trash locked up in an area that the animals cannot smell or see it. Take caution when feeding other outdoor animals, because those food products – cat food, dog food and bird seed – may also attract a bear to your yard. If you come across a black bear, try to look as large as possible, shout and act aggressively in order to intimidate the bear away.
Focusing on the wildlife and habitats of the South Carolina Lowcountry, the H2O Nature Center features live reptile and amphibian exhibits, hands-on displays and more. Apparel, gifts, books and bicycle/ fishing gear rentals are also available. To make reservations for the Alligator and Wildlife Tour with Master Naturalist Kathleen McMenamin, please call (843) 686-5323. For details on other water activities offered by H2O Sports, visit h2osportsonline.com.
By Kathleen McMenamin, Master Naturalist, H2O Sports. Photo courtesy of Bruce Andersen, Fox’s Den Lodge, Manistique, MI.