A black bear has been spotted several times this month in western Illinois. And authorities are telling the public to avoid getting too close or agitating the animal.
It’s unusual for a bear to show up in Illinois, although it happens from time to time. They usually come from the north, like this one that was seen near the Wisconsin border on June 10th.
Since then, it has been near Rockford, Rock Island, traveled over to Iowa and swam across the Mississippi River back into western Illinois, into Henderson County. A crowd of a few hundred there tried to follow and harass the bear during the Father’s Day weekend, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
IDNR wildlife biologist Stefanie Fitzsimons said this bear is likely a male as they tend to roam during mating season.
“So this bear is on a very long journey, an extra-long journey to find a mate, which he won’t find in Illinois,” she said.
The last time a bear was confirmed in Illinois was in Johnson County in June 2019. Damage had been done to a collection of bee hives and a genetic evaluation of the hair collected from the site confirmed the presence of a black bear, as listed on the IDNR website.
The state has advised residents to avoid the bear. That includes not feeding the animal or trying to get closer to snap a picture.
“We don’t want to intervene. We want it to safely continue its journey to its destination, wherever that is. We need the public to leave the bear alone,” Fitzsimons said. “Black bears are the smallest bear species. They’re pretty timid. But when provoked, they can attack.”
She said the bear has not bothered people or property. But she said the agency decided to issue a warning following the weekend incident.
Fitzsimons adds if the bear or humans are in danger, authorities will step in. She also said anyone trying to hunt the bear should know it’s a protected species in Illinois and harming it can result in criminal charges.
“This bear’s outcome is 100 percent dependent on how people react around it and we really just need people to stay away,” Fitzsimons said.