First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - John Stewart awoke at noon Monday to four police cruisers, several uniformed officers and a crowd of neighbors in his back yard.
And then there was the 300-pound black bear that was the center of attention. It had climbed a tree in the back yard of Stewart's Edgewood Street home in East Lumberton.
“I didn't know what to think,” Stewart said as he lit a cigarette. “I thought the dogs had got out.”
A neighbor said one of Stewart's eight dogs ran the bear up the tree about 11:45 a.m. Several people wondered aloud whether it was the same bear that was spotted Sunday night a couple of miles across town in the Tanglewood community. That bear was described as being a cub.
“That poor bear is hungry, tired and thirsty,” Laura Boria said. “I hope they don't kill it.”
Those gathered let out at a collective gasp and then shrieks as the bear shimmered down the tree. Some scattered into the street as others retreated to their own yards.
The bear then jumped a fence and climbed another tree behind a house on Lambeth Street. Dogs barked from below.
By 12:30 p.m., the bear had attracted the attention of passing motorists, including a cable repairman and a postal carrier. A young woman stopped her car and carried her two young children across a field to catch a glimpse. Some people snapped pictures. Others called friends on their cell phones. Even Police Chief Robert Grice couldn't resist taking a look.
Toby Hall, a state wildlife officer, spoiled the fun when he showed up and advised everyone to leave frightened bear alone.
“As long as there are people out here standing around, that bear is not coming down from that tree,” Hall said.
Ten minutes later, at about 1:30 p.m., the bear abandoned his tree sanctuary, sprinted across N.C. 41 and disappeared into some woods near the Sandpiper Restaurant.
Hall estimated the bear stood 7 feet tall and weighed between 300 to 400 pounds.
Gloria Stephens and her granddaughters, Shaniqua and Hanna, talked about their bear sighting to anyone who walked or drove by. “The only time I've seen a bear was in a book,” Hanna said.
Hall said the bear's keen sense of smell and hunger pains probably brought it to the residential area.
“There is a seafood restaurant down the street and several residential trash receptacles along the road,” Hall said. “Nine times out of 10, a nuisance animal like a raccoon or a bear is looking for food.”
Black bears are not considered dangerous, although they can be if cornered or provoked. Hall advised against feeding bears. He said to always keep the tops on outside trash cans.
“Bears are usually more scared of humans than we are of bears,” Hall said. “Leave them alone.”