In 1932 due to excessive hunting and habitat loss the black bear population in Mississippi had been reduced to less than twelve. At that time they were given statewide protection. By 1974 black bears there were included on Mississippi’s rare and threatened animals list. In 1992 the Fish and Wildlife Service listed them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. By the year 2000 there were about forty wild black bears, and today that population has increased to about 120.
Educating the public, preserving habitat, and prosecuting poachers have all helped the now rare bears begin to regenerate their population. New cubs are being born every year. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been put into conservation for bears and other species. Mississippi actually has two subspecies of bears; Louisiana black bears and American black bears. One development that helped the bear population increase was the return of female bears to the state. For the last forty years most of the bears were males, so there was zero or little chance for bear cubs to be born. After more wild land was designated as conservation area, female black bears from other states began returning.
State and federal authorities are taking illegal bear poaching seriously. Last year a Mississippi resident was sentenced to 30 days in jail, a $5,000 fine, and a $10,000 payment for a bear conservation and education group. “Anyone involved in the illegal killing of Mississippi black bears, protected by the Endangered Species Act, will be vigorously pursued by state and federal agents,” said Robert T. Oliveri, a US Fish and Wildlife agent. (Source: FWS.gov)
Unfortunately educating the public sometimes means the judicial system is needed to correct damaging behavior. Unless you live in Mississippi or nearby, you may not feel particularly connected to bears there. In a way you already are though, as the origin of the Teddy Bear supposedly comes from Mississippi. The story says President Teddy Roosevelt was in Mississippi to hunt black bears in 1902 when they were abundant. At one point a bear was captured and tied to a tree for the President to shoot. He refused to shoot the captive bear saying it was unsportsmanlike. After a surge in press about the incident, a toy shop owner wrote the President a letter asking if he could call his toy stuffed bear “Teddy’s Bear,” and the President agreed. Later the name was shortened to Teddy Bear. So if you have ever had a Teddy Bear, you do have a connection to Mississippi bears.
Although black bears are omnivores, meaning they eat just about everything, mainly their diet is vegetarian. They are very rarely aggressive towards humans.
Image Credit: CooperativeConservation.org