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Your chances of seeing a black bear in Missouri increase every year.

For the past decade or so, people in southern Missouri have been regularly sighted by black bears, but these sightings are now moving north as the bear population moves to other parts of Missouri as well. There have now been confirmed bear sightings in most counties in Missouri and signs indicate that sightings will only increase as the bear population continues to grow.

History of the Missouri bear

Missouri bears have a long history. You may have even noticed that the Missouri flag has two bears on it. However, that’s no nod to our ancient bear population, as the bears on the flag are grizzly bears – they’re meant to represent strength.

missouri flag

Grizzly bears have never lived in Missouri. Black bears have the ability to survive in swampy habitats to cold habitats. As long as there is a food source (let’s get back to this shortly), a black bear seems to have no problem living there.

During the last ice age, black bears were confined to areas devoid of a huge layer of ice. This pushed bear populations into the southern half of what is now the United States and Mexico. Giant glaciers have grown as far south as northern Missouri, which is also why northern Missouri is much flatter than southern Missouri. Bear populations in the dense pine forests of Missouri at the time were flourishing.

Not only have glaciers concentrated black bear populations to the south, but giant ice patches have also isolated groups of black bears long enough for them to create their own subspecies. This is why black bears in one part of the United States may look a little different from black bears in another part of the country. However, the different subspecies can still reproduce with each other.

Missouri’s black bear populations thrived until the 1800s, when hunters killed most of them for bear food or oil, and their range was greatly reduced by logging. and development. By the late 1800s, Missouri’s black bear population was considered extinct.

Demographic resurgence

A similar eradication of the black bear population has occurred in Arkansas. In the 1950s, Arkansas decided to try to bring back its black bear population by moving 248 bears from Minnesota and Canada to the Arkansas Ozark Mountains.

This plan was successful and the number of black bears in that state now exceeds 5,000. When bears were reintroduced to Arkansas, five bears roamed Missouri but all five were killed by bears. landowners.

There must have been more than five bears that traveled north into Missouri, however. Although Missouri has never officially relocated black bears to the state, bears regularly make Missouri their home.

Equally interesting, scientists studying Missouri black bear DNA have found that not all bear DNA matches displaced bears in Arkansas. It appears that a few original Missouri black bears have been hidden in the Ozarks, as their DNA is now mixed with the population. It is now believed that there are more than 500 black bears in Missouri and that number is expected to increase by 5-10% per year.

About our bears

Bears are very intelligent and easily remember things. Bears have been proven to know which day of the week is garbage day, and they’ve even learned that bird feeders are full of new food as long as they don’t destroy them. Black bears are omnivorous and eat small animals, but most often eat berries and insects. They will also eat almost anything we left out.

Equally important, the black bears in Missouri don’t want anything to do with you. They don’t want to attack you; they don’t want to eat you; and they don’t want to scare you. In fact, they think you are scary and will do whatever they can to avoid you.

There has been only one human bear-related death in Missouri and this one occurred in 1969. A circus worker decided he wanted to fight a 750-pound bear that was locked in a small cage. Before fighting him, he wanted to put a muzzle on him so he couldn’t bite him. He entered the small cage to add the muzzle and the bear disagreed with the idea.

Bears do very little (if any) damage to property and they don’t want to attack humans. As long as you don’t put a bear in a cage and then decide to fight it, humans and bears will live happily and at peace together in Missouri. Enjoy it!

Mike Szydlowski is Science Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.


1. Why is the northern part of Missouri different from the southern part?

2. Why did black bears leave Missouri?

3. Why can a California black bear be different from a Tennessee black bear?

4. How did scientists find out that the original Missouri black bears were not completely wiped out?

5. Give two reasons why you think there are more black bears in southern Missouri than in northern Missouri.


1. What conditions create a high risk of forest fires?

Hot, dry conditions are the perfect recipe for large forest fires.

2. Why don’t periods of excessive heat cause fire hazards in other parts of the country?

There is a lot of water in other places that get hot (for example, the Gulf Coast), so hot air has plenty of places to extract moisture before removing everything from the soil and plants.

3. How does hot air worsen fire conditions?

Warm air can hold more moisture than cooler air. It gets this moisture from the soil and plants, making them drier and easier to burn.

4. Why is mountain snow so important to the West?

Slow-melting snow provides many communities with the water they need. When the snow melts too quickly, communities lack water during the summer months.

5. What causes the West to dry up in the long run?

Climate change is constantly altering the conditions leading to water scarcity and dangerous fires.