WASHINGTON – A young black bear gave residents of a quiet northeast Washington neighborhood a start Friday morning when they woke to find a furry interloper wandering backyards and sniffing around garbage cans.
Pictures of the bear and its capture touched off a frenzy on social media. It also spurred a healthy online debate as to whether to name it Franklin, for the street where he was captured, or Smokey — for both the iconic cartoon bear and as a testament to this particularly smoky week in Washington weather.
The bear was discovered roaming the Brookland neighborhood, less than 5 miles from the Capitol and White House. It prompted formation of a sort of ursine emergency task force including the Metropolitan Police Department, the local Humane Rescue Alliance, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Zoo.
Authorities formed a perimeter near the 1300 block of Franklin Street NE to keep curious onlookers away. When the young male bear climbed a tree, police used their sirens to discourage him from climbing down until capture crews were ready.
Undeterred by the noise, the bear came down around 10 a.m. and started wandering area yards. Humane Rescue Alliance staffers were able to tranquilize the approximately 200- pound animal and load it into a huge metal crate. The young male will now receive a medical check and be released back into the wild, “somewhere in Maryland,” said Chris Schindler, vice president of field services for the Humane Rescue Alliance.
Wildlife authorities had actually been tracking this particular bear for several weeks, spotting him most recently around nearby Hyattsville, Maryland. But the last bear-related mobilization like this in D.C. was at least five years ago.
“At this age, it’s natural for them to explore other areas,” said Schindler, who estimated the animal was a little more than a year old, “especially as wildlife continues to be pushed out of their natural areas by human construction.”
The bear would mostly likely not have been aggressive unless it was startled by humans or challenged by an particularly brave dog.
“Bears often do not want to engage with people,” Schindler said. “As long as people keep their distance and give them their space, it will be fine.”
CORRECTS to change Human Rescue Alliance to Humane Rescue Alliance.