The Missouri Department of Conservation has conducted a study using DNA technology that can determine the state’s black bear population.
Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer with the Missouri Department of Conservation says the black bear population has seen an increase in the past few decades, but a DNA technology study used to determine how many bears exist in the state by collecting hair samples have led to approximately 225 bears throughout the state, although more work remains to validate that estimate.
“It got to the point where it felt like we had a meaningful population and it was time for us to really start taking stock in it,” he said. “So we developed an idea to find out how many bears we had, and there’s some new technology out there that we didn’t have even ten years ago and that involved using DNA to identify a bear as an individual from its hair.” Beringer says collecting hair samples is a sophisticated way to determine the bear population estimate.
DNA evidence suggests the largest black bear populations are in Webster and Douglas counties, which could be a remnant of the state’s original black bear population. “We’re able to put a bunch of these hair snares in the woods where we can snag some hair off of a bear as it’s coming by to smell something,” he said. “And then from that hair, we can tell the sex of the animal, as well as identifying it as an individual.”
Other bears throughout the state are presumed to be descended from bears brought to Arkansas in the late 1950’s through the 1960’s as part of a re-introduction program that later traveled north into Missouri.
The Department of Conservation’s goal is to use the information to better manage Missouri’s black bear population.
AUDIO: Mary Farucci reports. (1:00)