The black bear is one of the many animals that make up our local wildlife population. They can range in size from as small as 100 lbs. for females to over 500 lbs. for older well-fed males. Their average lifespan is around 18 years and there are an estimated 300-400 black bears that live in the coastal areas of South Carolina. They are great swimmers and climbers who are most active from June through August – their peak breeding season. As more and more housing developments take up land that was once bear habitat, close encounters with bears will continue to increase. Bears eat mostly plants, berries and nuts (80% of their diet) and only eat a small amount of meat or insects (20%). However, like any wild animal, a bear will not ignore an easy meal left out and accessible by a careless human. In general, most black bears are shy and wary of humans. Unless someone has been feeding the bear or you happen to get between a mama bear and her cubs, most encounters resolve quickly and safely if you follow a few simple guidelines. 1. Never feed bears – intentionally or unintentionally. Bears will take advantage of any food source you leave accessible (or they think they smell – like your uncleaned grill). Keep trash secured, clean grills/outdoor cooking devices, pick up pet food at night and take down bird feeders at night. If a bear finds an easy meal at your house, the chances are higher he or she will return and end up becoming a nuisance bear. 2. Never approach baby bears. Even if you don’t see mama bear, she’s there and she’s watching. If you do find yourself between a mama bear and her cubs, keep your eyes on mama (but don’t make eye contact) and slowly back away until you can get into a house or other safe area. Allow the bear and her cubs to leave on their own before going outside again. 3. Do not climb a tree to escape a bear. They are excellent climbers and are better at it than most humans. 4. Do not make eye contact with a bear. However, you do want to keep an eye on the bear as you slowly back away. Stand up straight and make yourself appear as large as possible without acting in a threatening way as you are backing away. 5. Talk calmly and gently to the bear so it can identify you as human. Most bears are leery of humans and will be equally eager to get away from you too. 6. Never run from a bear if you can possibly avoid it. Like most wild animals, when you run away from them, it makes it more likely you’ll be misidentified as food. If you have any encounter with a bear, make sure the bear has completely moved on from the area before you go outdoors again to avoid an additional encounter. If you have any questions or have a bear on your property that is in no hurry to leave, call Pee Dee Wildlife for assistance.