A wayward black bear added a bit of excitement Wednesday on Grounds before being safely transported to a more appropriate setting.
University of Virginia Chief of Police Michael Gibson said his office responded to afternoon calls about a bear sighting near the Battle Building, a unit of the UVA Children’s Hospital located at the intersection of Jefferson Park Avenue and West Main Street.
One observer snapped a photo showing the animal ambling along a sidewalk. In another image, the bear is pausing in a small landscaped area, framed by a low, rock wall and flowering lantana.
Based on other sightings and photos posted on social media, the bear put in a full day at the University – or perhaps more than one bear paid a visit.
Jim Baker, director of international outreach and alumni engagement for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, saw what he describes as the “UVA Bear” Wednesday morning as he drove along Massie Road near Klöckner Stadium.
“The bear had just crossed the street from the [Copeley Hill] family housing apartment complex and turned around after encountering the fence,” Baker said. “I felt sorry for the bear. It seemed out of place there and wanting to be someplace else.”
He slowed to snap an iPhone photo of UVA Bear from his car.
“Most likely it’s the same bear, but there’s no way to be absolutely sure,” Gibson said.
Naturally, social media crackled with news and images of the animal.
David Kocka, a wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, arrived at the Battle Building after getting calls for assistance from UVA and city officials. He found the bear at the base of a tree, looking exhausted.
“He was probably hot, wondering what was going on. He was just lying there,” Kocka said. “There was no way for him to easily get out of there.”
Kocka and a colleague tranquilized the bear, and loaded him into an animal container on Kocka’s truck. UVA Bear spent the night in that container outside Kocka’s house in Augusta County, allowing the tranquilizer drug to fully wear off.
It was released Thursday morning on national forest property west of Harrisonburg.
Wednesday’s bear encounter isn’t the only time this summer that a bear has appeared on or near Grounds. In July, a black bear was seen near a School of Law loading dock before being scared away.
“Free food is what they’re after,” Kocka said. “They are looking for food and get confused by the buildings and cars and people.”
The black bear is the only bear species native to Virginia. Though commonly associated with Virginia’s mountains, the animals are present across the state, according to Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Adults may reach 4 to 7 feet long and 2 to 3 feet high on all fours. Their weight varies greatly depending on the sex and the time of year. Kocka said the state maintains a wildlife helpline that gives the public a way to report issues.
He has received multiple messages during recent weeks about bear sightings in Charlottesville. Kocka said people who encounter bears should remain calm and give the animal plenty of room to move, without cornering it.
The game department offers plenty of information about the animals and our interaction with them in its “Living With Black Bears in Virginia” section of its website.
Baker, who photographed the bear near Klöckner, said he was “pretty stunned to see the bear crossing the street,” but pleased to hear it is now back in more suitable territory.
“I am glad there was a good outcome!” he said.