Thursday, August 13, 2009

Georgia: Homeowner kills 3-year-old black bear

Wayne County, Georgia

From the Sun-Sentinel of August 11, 2009
Homeowner kills 3-year-old black bear

Westley, the wandering black bear, whose journeys brought him too close to homes in Wellington and Weston earlier this year, has died in southeast Georgia, wildlife officials said. He was 3.

Westley, estimated to weigh 200 pounds, was killed by a homeowner Saturday with a shotgun after he damaged property and wandered in a residential neighborhood in western Wayne County, said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

"It'd been trying to get into homes, pounding on garages and attempting to get through doors," Cummings said. "The bear had become too accustomed to people."

According to the Florida Times-Union, a homeowner named Ken Boyette saw Westley in his neighborhood Saturday, uncomfortably close to where children were riding bicycles and playing football. He shot Westley, killing him instantly.

"I didn't have a choice. He had no fear of humans," Boyette told the Times-Union. "I was afraid it was going to hurt one of the kids or someone else."

The wandering bear first made headlines in April when a Weston family spotted him foraging near the backyard in their gated community. No live bear had been seen in Broward County in three decades.

Westley popped up around Weston a few more times, surprising morning joggers and prompting a school lockdown when students saw him prowling near Manatee Bay Elementary School.

A Sun Sentinel contest to name the bear received nearly 400 entries. Readers eventually chose Westley in a poll.

State wildlife officials caught Westley in May and relocated him to Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County, where most black bears in Florida are found.

But Westley wouldn't stay put for long. He made his way to Wellington in June, where he was again captured and this time sent upstate to Osceola National Forest.

Last month, he showed up at Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, in the Jacksonville area, where he bothered no one, said Florida Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro.

From there he crossed the St. Marys River and visited the town of St. Marys in southeastern Georgia.

Westley had an ear tag, SO11, letting officials know it was the same animal that had wandered through South Florida, Ferraro said.

Though Georgia authorities noticed the tag when they captured him in St. Marys early last week, they didn't know the animal had crossed state lines.

Georgia has a "three strikes" policy when it comes to bears roaming around cities: they can be captured and released two times, but they're killed if they're caught a third time, Cummings said. Authorities say they would have put down Westley had they known his Florida history.

Narrowly missing that scrape with death, Westley wasn't so lucky the next time he wandered into a town a few days later.

After he was killed, Georgia wildlife officials disposed of his body in a landfill, Cummings said.

"Some bears wander around looking for suitable territory," Cummings said. "A few others are moving bears: they never establish their territory and keep moving, never finding the home they're looking for. This bear could've been that kind."

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