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According to local newspaper reports, Atkinson’s Greg Johnson’s three children were under orders to remain indoors at their John Doore Road home until Maine game wardens could trap a bear that had developed a taste for the Johnson family swine herd.
"When I got up Sunday, the grill was tipped over and the first pig was missing," Johnson said recently. "I followed a blood trail into the woods and saw the bear tracks."
Every night since, Johnson has slept with his window open.
"About 8:30 p.m. the dog started barking, and I figured the sound of the dog would drive the bear off," he said. "About 9, I heard the pig squealing and went outside with a shotgun and fired a shot. That caused the bear to drop the pig."
Johnson said he went inside and got a flashlight. By the time he returned, the bear had grabbed the pig again and headed for the woods.
Johnson said he alerted all his neighbors, including a nearby dairy farmer and some people who raise rabbits.
"I've lived here seven years and never had a problem," he said. "Sometimes someone would see a bear in the spring and then again maybe in the fall. But nothing like this. The kids aren't sleeping too well."
"We've definitely got a serious problem here and we're very concerned," game
warden Mike Eaton said. "The pig's pen was right behind the family home. What concerns us as well is that the bear also scratched at a propane tank attached to the house."
All of this activity was too close for comfort, Eaton said, and Johnson and his neighbors are keeping a close eye on their other livestock until the bear is caught. The bear first attacked a 40-pound pig two Sundays ago, Eaton said. It returned the following Wednesday night for the remaining pig.
"This is a hungry bear," Eaton said, guessing that it is a large male. The tracks left behind are larger than the handprint of an average man, he added.
In May, having just emerged from their winter hibernation, Maine's bears are at their lowest weight...and hungry, said Eaton. It is also the time of year when the food supply is at its lowest. There are no berries yet, and any nuts left on the ground from last year are of poor nutritional quality.
"You can imagine how many grubs and ants a bear has to eat to get full," Eaton said. "It's nothing to find a decayed log completely shredded by bears at this time of year."
Mark Latti, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said there are a handful of incidents like this each spring. This year, Maine black bears have killed chickens near Parsonsfield and sheep on a boundary-line farm between Maine and New Hampshire, he said. Administrators kept schoolchildren inside at recess recently in Bridgton, where a pair of bears had been marauding neighborhood birdfeeders and garbage cans. Area animal control officers handled 21 complaints in one month.
In another incident, three people from Massachusetts were camping along the
Saco River and decided to cook bacon late one night a few weeks ago. Within minutes, a bear arrived, tipping over the pan of bacon, eating everything in the campers' cooler and driving the campers inside their tent, Latti said.
Eaton said warden biologist Douglas Kane will be on site at the Johnson home on Sunday to try to trap the bear.
"It is likely the bear will have to be disposed of rather than relocated," Kane said. "Once a bear finds out how easy it is to get at domestic animals, it isn't going to stop.
“A bear is the boss of his domain,” he added. “He fears nothing. We have a serious problem here."
Some of this, of course, contains a bit of veiled PR for the upcoming referendum battle over bear hunting (and by the way and of course, we fully support bear hunting here at All Outdoors central). It’s a bit much, however, to suggest that the Johnson kids are in danger of being eaten by a bear when, as long as records have been kept in Maine, no children have ever been attacked, let alone eaten, by a hungry bear, though many a pig, calf and beehive has been consumed by hungry bruins during that time. It’s easy to think this might happen, and certainly we don’t want anyone to be first, but caution is one thing – suggesting that we have a potential man eater in our midst is another. I wouldn’t necessarily trust a marauding bear (look what happened to that nut out West who thought it would be an “honor” to become bear scat – he got his wish, as did his very unwilling girlfriend, though that job was done by brown bears), but suggesting that we all need to hide indoors till this is over” is going a bit far (though perhaps not in an important voting year!).
I also think the good warden was embellishing when he suggested that the bear was a “big male” judging only from the track, which was bigger than an average man’s hand. You can’t tell everything about a bear from its track any more than you can tell everything about a man from the size of his hands (folklore and Cosmopolitan aside). I have participated in many a bear hunt with hounds and discovered that, if anything is misleading about a bear, it’s the size of its tracks. Some bears have big feet and some don’t, just as some bears have big heads and some don’t. I hunted bears with a variety of guides and hounds and, to our everlasting surprise, only one of those bruins ever tipped the scales over 300 pounds, and we all thought that one looked small!
I’m also not sure why there’s concern over the bear scratching the propane tank. Bears break into hunting and fishing camps all the time and the damage they do is always astounding, but it just shows what a bear will do if it thinks there’s some free food around. The bear is after food, not human victims, and it’s highly likely that the bear would not go near the house (or its inhabitants) no matter how many pigs they had or how many times it came back. Leave a chocolate cake on the windowsill, however, and you may have a different story, but the bear will likely just take the cake, not all the pre-schoolers.
While it would be just as foolish to think it’s perfectly safe to have a bear in the back yard, I hope some wiser heads intervene here before we have gangs of torch-carrying vigilantes running around killing a lot of innocent, non-pork-stealing bears.
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