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"Lions,Tigers,and Black Bears,Oh My!"

Updated: Feb 8, 2020

One of the largest wild mammals in Missouri, the American black bear is unmistakable with its black fur and powerful bearing.

Black bears live in heavily wooded areas. Reintroduction efforts in Arkansas have increased their numbers in Missouri as the bears head into the heavily wooded areas of the Ozarks seeking new habitat. Black bears used to be abundant in the Ozarks but had become rare by 1850 and were nearly eliminated by 1931. Black bears live in heavily wooded areas. In winter they den in a hollow tree, cave, an excavated hollow in the ground or another shelter. In summer they sleep in trees or on the ground. Because a bear can become a danger when it learns to associate humans with food, it is important to keep them wild. So do not try feeding wildlife no matter what!

Keep a clean campsite. Follow these guidelines when camping in black bear country. Store all food and toiletries like toothpaste and deodorant in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees. Store garbage securely in a vehicle or strung high between two trees. Never burn or bury garbage or food waste. Odors attract bears!!


Never feed a bear!Feeding bears makes them lose their natural fear of humans, and teaches them to see humans as food providers. They will learn to go to places like homes, campsites, and neighborhoods to look for food, instead of staying in the forest.A bear that has gotten used to getting food from humans may become aggressive and dangerous. When this happens, the bear has to be destroyed. Help bears stay wild and healthy, and keep yourself and your neighbors safe. Don’t feed bears.

Black bears eat a variety of foods. Plant matter includes grass, berries and other fruits, various seeds and nuts, the inner bark of trees and roots. Animal food includes ants, bees and their honey, crickets and grasshoppers, fish, frogs, small rodents, fawns, bird eggs, and many kinds of carrion. Acorns are an important food source in the fall as bears prepare for winter. Bears feed on smaller animals and thus keep their populations in check; they also kill old, injured, sick animals unfit to survive. As scavengers, they eat carrion and therefore help clean the woods. Inexperienced or unknowing campers most likely don't think of the long-term outcome of their actions when it comes to storage of food and food waste while out in the bush. And this, more often than not, leads to the unnecessary death of full-grown bears and their cubs or the possibility of a human being mauled or killed. Before you head out to the backcountry for a picnic, a weekend or longer, make yourself familiar with what you need to do to not be a bear baiter!

Or use the Vehicle Method to Secure your Food:

Place all food and food waste in your car (This includes empty (beer) cans and garbage)Close doors and windows



Stay alert and avoid confrontation

Make noise so you don’t surprise a bear – clap, sing, or talk loudly. Travel in a group if possible. Pay attention to your surroundings and watch for bear sign such as tracks or claw or bite marks on trees.Keep dogs leashed.If you see a bear, leave it alone! Do not approach it. Make sure it has an escape route.

If you encounter a bear up close,

Never corner a bear – make sure it has an escape route. Back away slowly with your arms raised. Speak in a calm, loud voice . Do not turn your back to the bear. Walk away slowly – DO NOT RUN.


Front track:

3¾ inches long; size varies greatly between young and older. Individuals 5 toes. Claws often do not show. The separate heel pad sometimes doesn’t show.

Hind track:

8 inches long; size varies greatly between young and older individuals 5 toes, but smallest (inside) toe may not register. The smallest toe is the one on the inside (analogous to our big toe), and it sometimes doesn’t leave a print. Often described as looking like the prints of a person wearing moccasins.

Black bears are an exciting part of Missouri’s natural history, and they’re making a comeback in the southern part of the state. Follow these guidelines to Be Bear Aware – stay safe in bear country, and keep our bears wild.

Report all bear sightings to Missouri Department of Conservation staff.

For more info about camping in the Ozark Mountains visit us at

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