Experts disagree on animal caught on film

Published 1:09 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The mystery behind the Demopolis black bear continues to deepen.

Conflicting expert opinions have narrowed the animal down to two things: A black bear or a black cat.

Wildlife biologists with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who claim the animal in the photo captured by a hunter’s deer camera earlier this month is a cat, made the determination after they were provided with a copy of the photo last week.

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However, Daniel Powell, Alabama Wildlife Federation Past President and Alabama Black Bear Alliance Coordinator who was also provided a copy of the same photo, said he believes the photo is, indeed, a black bear.

State wildlife biologists believe the part of the animal, which would be a snout on a black bear, is actually the inside of the right ear of a house cat. They claim the cat’s head is down and it appears to be licking it chest.

Powell disagrees.

“There’s something wrong with his head,” he said. “I don’t disagree with that, but the body is not the body of a cat.”

Powell said the animal’s entire head appears to be swollen but estimated the animal in the photo is much too large to be a cat.

“It looks to me like it weighs about 100-something pounds, like it’s a young male bear,” he said. “It’s not a very big bear by any means.”

Powell also said he’s been able to zoom in on the photograph and identify what he believes to be the eyes, disputing the biologists’ claim that the animal’s head is turned.

“There’s just something odd about the bear’s head,” he said, “but in my opinion, there’s no doubt that’s a bear.”

Powell suspects the bear is from Mississippi and has requested help from the State of Mississippi in helping to identify the animal.

“It’s obvious in the photo that it’s been collared and they’re collaring bears in Mississippi, so if they collared it, they’re tracking it,” he said.

If the animal is a black bear, Powell said what would seem a daunting commute across the state line is not too improbable.

“I’ve been involved in and seen several cases where a previously trapped bear will travel 400, even 500 miles,” he said. “Some times, when a bear is caught, it sets off what I call a ‘travel switch’ and they take off.”

Powell said it would not be uncommon at all for a young male bear, which he claims the animal question is, to travel such a distance.

Brad Young, a wildlife biologist with the State of Mississippi, also identified the animal as a bear and suspected it may not have traveled as far as some assume.

“It is definitely a bear and it is definitely wearing a collar,” he said via email Tuesday after reviewing the same photo. “Based on the location and the fact that he is the only bear not accounted for on that side of the state, I think that is the bear we collared in Meridian in the summer of 2008.”