Originally created 06/03/01

There's a (big) bear over there

This is the time of year when bears wander through east Georgia.

Ask Sylvia Cooper, a fellow staffer here at The Augusta Chronicle who eyeballed a visiting bruin last week in her yard off Wrightsboro Road near Thomson.

"I looked out the window and there he was - just trotting along," she said. "We called the Sheriff's Department, but they laughed in my face."

Then she told her story to a neighbor, who jokingly asked whether she'd been drinking. Others to whom the sighting was reported were certain it was merely a large pig - or a dog.

But it was a bear - no doubt at all - and a large one at that.

"It was at least five times bigger than my dog, and the dog weighs 100 pounds," she said.

Cooper's sighting wasn't the only such report to reach the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which keeps tabs on wandering bears.

Vic VanSant, a Thomson-based wildlife biologist, said the same bear was seen the following day - in Lincoln County - by a DNR law enforcement ranger. "It was a big one, walking alongside a pasture," he said.

Bears aren't common in this part of Georgia, but they pass through from time to time. Typically, bears from the mountains disperse in May and June, striking out in search of their own territory.

They follow major river drainages looking for other bears. In the absence of suitable company - they just keep moving, often 50 to 60 miles per day. Sometimes they cross the entire state.

Van Sant said this is the most likely time to see a traveling bear.

In fact, it was exactly a year ago this week that Freddie Yelton saw a bear crossing a field while he was watering a vegetable garden at his hunting club near Waynesboro, Ga.

He even photographed a pack of cigarettes next to its footprints - in case people thought he was seeing things.

The previous year - in 1999 - there were three bear sightings in Columbia County, along Blanchard and Clark roads in Evans, and near William Few Parkway. Wildlife authorities say all three sightings likely were the same bear.

Wandering bears aren't dangerous unless cornered and usually want little more than company of their own kind, some berries or fruits and to be left alone.

WEST LAKE INTRUDER: There was some nocturnal commotion involving a boat and lots of spotlights Tuesday night at West Lake subdivision.

An intruder had been reported in one of the lakes. Somehow it got past the guard gate without getting a pass.

Nope, it wasn't a pack of kids diving for golf balls. It was an alligator. It wasn't doing anything but floating around in the pond, but residents - fearing it might gobble up someone's dog - wanted it removed.

Three officers from the state Wildlife Resources Division cornered the three-foot reptile, taped its snout to encourage obedience and transported it to a new home - in a Burke County swamp near Buckhead Creek.

BOATING ARRESTS: After a widespread boating safety campaign before Memorial Day weekend, Georgia authorities made 44 boating under the influence arrests statewide - mostly on major lakes.

"Compared to last year, the number of BUIs decreased, and there were no BUI-related fatalities," said state boating law administrator Lt. Col. Terry West.

One non-alcohol related drowning was reported at Thurmond Lake before the holiday weekend.

Joseph Yeh, 30, vanished May 26 after he and two companions jumped from their sailboat to swim offshore near Fort Gordon Recreation Area. While they were swimming, their boat drifted away.

The two companions swam to shore. Yeh vanished and was presumed drowned.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.


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