A brown bear cub managed to elude Kenai police officers and Fish and Game biologist Larry Lewis for several hours Tuesday afternoon as they tracked it through woods in Kenai trying to sedate it or remove from populated areas.
"It was a tough situation," Lewis said. "It was a small bear in thick brush."
Lewis said he got a shot off with his tranquilizer dart gun, but was unsure if he scored a hit. Police and Lewis searched for the young bear following the shot, but were unable to find it. It was last reported seen near Kenai Municipal Airport, heading toward Marathon Road, according to Lewis.
"It didn't work out exactly as planned, he said. "But the end result was fine -- (the bear) headed out of town."
Despite early reports of a sow in the area, too, Lewis said the cub, a yearling, apparently was traveling alone.
"It was a yearling bear, so it should have been with a sow," he said. "But I think it was on its own."
Although unusual, Lewis said there are many reasons a bear that young could have been without its mother. He said its chances of survival should be fine if it avoids bigger bears and stays in the woods.
"If it comes back into town, that's when it could get into trouble," he said.
Kenai police spent more than four hours Tuesday afternoon attempting to control the stream of curious motorists surrounding the bear's vicinity while continuing to search for the bear and assist Lewis in sedating the animal.
Because the bear was roaming through the woods behind Big Kmart and Carr and could not be easily seen, the police department recruited assistance from a Kenai Fire Department ladder truck and two firefighters, who went up in the ladder to try and spot the bear from above the treetops.
Still, the bear continued to move back and forth between Airport Way and Granite Point Road, as police officers and Lewis followed its path trying to get a site on it for a clear shot.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Larry Lewis prepares a tranquilizer dart as Kenai police officer Kelly George stands guard behind Big Kmart.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Before Lewis arrived, the police were mainly concerned with maintaining a distance between onlookers and the cub, so passersby were able to satisfy their curiosity.
"This is totally cool," said Lisa Bell, who was on her postal delivery route when she saw cars and people parked in the lot at the Kings Inn and decided to check out the situation.
"My husband would just dig on that. It's pretty exciting," said the Soldotna resident.
Laura Helms, of Kenai, was also watching the bear from a distance with her 4-year-old daughter, Hailey. She saw her first bear with her father when she was 9, and now she and her daughter were sharing her second glimpse.
"My heart is beating a little bit," she said, but Hailey shook her head when Helms asked if she was scared.
Kelly Martin, an employee at the used car lot extension of Kenai Chrysler Center located across the road from the gravel patch where the bear hung out for a brief period of time, said she, too, was more than a little intimidated by the animal.
"I am shaking like a leaf," said the Kasilof resident.
Kenai firefighters use the department's ladder truck to scan the woods for the elusive bear during efforts to dart it so that it could be removed from the heart of town.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Lewis, who had been summoned by police from Cooper Landing, where he was delivering a lecture on bear awareness, noted the public safety issue at stake with living on the edge of the wilderness.
"This can happen anywhere, even in town, so be aware," he cautioned. "Be thinking about bears during the summer."
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