A 350-pound male black bear from Wisconsin came to end of a long journey Sunday night in Wentzville. But it wasn’t a sad ending, thanks to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
According to Decatur, Illinois’ The Herald & Review, the bear left Wisconsin in early June and began a trek south, crossing into Illinois and briefly into Iowa before returning to Illinois, “spending much of the rest of the month wandering south through west-central Illinois — meantime acquiring the nickname “Bruno,” the paper reported. Eventually, Bruno swam across the Mississippi to Missouri and was spotted in Elsberry, 60 miles northwest of St. Louis, last Thursday.
Bruno became a social media darling, even inspiring a Facebook page called Keeping Bruno Safe, which has over 150,000 members.
Wentzville resident Suzanne Mueller was one of the people following Bruno’s story on social media. “Based on his projected path I had a strong feeling he would end up in Wentzville or close by,” Mueller said.
“Yesterday because I live so close I just decided to go on a drive around Josephville and St. Paul areas, which are tiny farm towns right outside Wentzville, to see if we might see him. We decided to come back down towards home on the service road (Pitman Road) that I often take between the GM plant and Highway 70. I used to work in the old Verizon offices right there that intersects along Pitman so I am familiar with the area.”
When Mueller saw police and a Missouri Department of Conservation truck in the area, she stopped to ask if it was because of the bear. “It was really hot at that time and Bruno had decided to bed down for a bit,” Mueller said. She talked with the owner of the lot where Bruno ended up. Although the owner planned to open his south gate to allow Bruno to continue his journey, MDC agents determined that the bear was stressed and decided against a plan to shut down I-70 and I-64 to allow the bear to cross.
“The bear found itself in a tough spot, stuck by several major roadways,” said MDC State Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee. “Due to the proximity to the roadways, coupled with the busy travel day, MDC staff determined the bear had little chance of safely leaving the area on its own. In the interest of public safety and the bear’s safety, MDC staff made the decision to immobilize the bear and transport it to a nearby area of suitable bear habitat outside this urban corridor.”
According to a MDC press release, trained staff successfully sedated Bruno, monitored his condition while he was transported to a suitable habitat away from populated areas, and released unharmed.
“Dispersing” bears leave the area where they were born and move to a nonadjacent breeding ground. MDC said that it will generally not interfere with dispersing bears unless it is a last resort. “Given the bear’s location and safety considerations, staff on scene determined this was necessary and the situation allowed for it to be done,” MDC said in the press release.
Conlee said that although this bear’s movements are a bit out of the norm, bears can traverse large distances and MDC frequently receives reports of bears throughout the southern half of Missouri where MDC estimates there are between 540-840 bears. Missouri’s bear population is growing approximately 9 percent annually and dispersing bears have appeared in the greater St. Louis area before, a trend that is likely to continue with the growing bear population.