Bear sightings have tripled in Southern Arizona, particularly in Rio Rico, officials said.
Arizona Game and Fish officials reported about 12 bear sightings in October, where in a normal year they would hear about one sighting each week, said spokesman Mark Hart.
“We’ve been scratching our heads about the bears coming to lower elevations,” Hart said.
The working theory is unusually dry, hot conditions forced bears to descend from their usual habitat above 5,000 feet in search of water, Hart said.
Game and Fish hasn’t heard about any bear sightings in Tucson, he said. Most sightings are near Rio Rico, Sierra Vista or in the Santa Rita Mountains east of Tucson.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has received more than 30 calls about a black bear roaming neighborhoods since the start of October, said Sheriff Antonio Estrada. Another person called Friday to say the bear was rummaging through garbage cans.
The bear weighs about 225 pounds and likely is about 4 years old, Hart said.
The bear was first seen near Rio Rico around Halloween, Hart said. It was captured Nov. 2, tagged, and relocated to an area more than 20 miles from Rio Rico.
However, wildlife officials could not relocate the bear as far away as they would have liked, Hart said. Agency policy says a bear can’t be relocated to an area where a bear hunt is under way, which includes much of Arizona this time of year.
The worry is if a hunter kills and eats a relocated bear, which has been drugged during the relocation, the meat could sicken the person, Hart said.
The bear came back to the Rio Rico area on Nov. 8, but disappeared for about 10 days. Hart said the bear likely stayed near Pena Blanca Lake during that time. The bear was seen again on Thanksgiving weekend and on Nov. 29 it tore up the bottom portion of a chain-link fence to get into some garbage.
Most of the sightings were west of Interstate 19 and north of Ruby Road, Hart said.
The Nogales International posted a video on Nov. 20 of the bear roaming through a Rio Rico back yard, running behind bushes next to a house and walking down the sidewalk of a residential street.
Estrada said a resident saw the bear near a shopping center just west of I-19 near Rio Rico Road.
Now that the bear has returned after being relocated, agency policy requires it be put down, Hart said.
The problem is the bear has learned to avoid traps, he said. Officials can’t shoot and kill the bear while it is in a residential area. Tranquilizer darts are only accurate up to about 100 feet and officials worry about a semi-drugged bear running through a neighborhood or a child coming across a dart that fell out of the bear.
Hart advised Rio Rico residents to secure their garbage and not take it out until the day of pickup. Residents also should take down birdfeeders and remove fruit on low branches and on the ground.
The bear has not shown any menacing behavior yet, but Hart cautioned that bears are unpredictable and likely would charge a person if it felt threatened.
Officials hope the bear moves out of populated areas of its own accord in the next few weeks. As temperatures drop, bears start their hibernation, usually from around Christmas to March, Hart said.
Another bear may have been spotted near Rio Rico, Hart said, but officials are more concerned with the bear that was tagged.