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DEC: Bear that ate donkey no threat to humans

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Black bear/ NYS DEC website

CLAVERACK—A black bear in search of a pre-hibernation meal killed a pet miniature donkey in its pen overnight, October 3.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reports being notified October 4 by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office that a black bear attacked and killed a miniature donkey in its fenced-in enclosure the night before.

According to a report on NEWS10 ABC, the miniature donkey named Lucy lived with three other donkeys (one named Ricky) on Shasta Drive off Fish and Game Road. The donkeys belong to Laura-Ann Camissa, who told TV news reporter James De La Fuente that Lucy, the most diminutive of the group, died “a brutal, horrible death.”

Most fully-grown mini donkeys are 32 to 34 inches high and weigh 200 to 300 pounds, according to minidonkeyuniversity.com.

“Lucy was very petite and very endearing. She just drew everybody in,” Ms. Camissa said in the TV news report.

DEC Wildlife Biologist Mike Clark, told The Columbia Paper this week that bears are omnivores and while vegetation makes up the bulk of their diet, they are still predators and scavengers that will opportunistically eat meat.

Starting in late summer, a bear’s main focus is “packing on the pounds and calories” in preparation for hibernation.

When a bear starts hibernating varies annually, said Mr. Clark. It could be when the weather gets bad or when the food supply runs out and they are expending more energy trying to find food than eating it—typically sometime between early December and early January. Now with the effects of climate change, Mr. Clark said it is not uncommon for a bear to come out of hibernation in the middle of winter, but typically, with some variation, hibernation lasts until late March or April.

Mr. Clark said he does not have an estimate of the bear population in Columbia County but says that bears have a large home range and the bear population is expanding out of its core areas in the Berkshires, Catskills and Taconics.

The bear that killed the donkey returned to Shasta Drive the following evening and had the remaining donkeys cornered in their pen when Ms. Camissa’s husband ran out and scared it away by yelling at it.

Though the suspect bear remains roaming the landscape and there have been four local bear sightings since the attack, Mr. Clark said, the DEC will not go out and hunt for the bear.

When a bear gets a food reward it is likely to come back, he explained. The bear probably expected that the donkey carcass would still be there. But Ms. Camissa had already buried the donkey on the property and the bear could likely smell it. “But the bear did exactly what we want it to do—it ran away when a human yelled at it,” he said.

Mr. Clark said because of the growing bear population and more bear/human interactions, the DEC has had to re-educate and train people how to co-exist with bears.

He said the primary strategy is to remove food from the landscape. Do not have bird feeders out and do not have garbage around, both are huge bear attractions.

Mr. Clark said currently the surviving donkeys are being boarded elsewhere, while Ms. Camissa installs an electric fence and a security system that will alert her to an intruder’s presence.

Mr. Clark said electric fences have proven to be effective bear deterrents when used by beekeepers to protect their hives.

It is currently open hunting season on bears, he noted. In Columbia County it is archery season, in mid-November rifle season begins and mid-December is muzzle loader season.

In his nearly 22-years as a wildlife biologist with the DEC, Mr. Clark said this is the first time he has heard of a bear killing a donkey. He said bears do eat fawns and do attack chickens in their coops, also sheep and goats in their pastures.

Mr. Clark said, “I want to stress that people should remove attractants.” He noted, bears have a natural fear of humans, there’s no reason to think that a bear would attack a human. If a bear is encountered on a walk or hike, he said, make yourself known—yell or clap—and the bear should turn and run away.

Asked when is it safe to put out the bird feeders? Mr. Clark said the DEC website says December 1 to April 1, but to be on the safe side due to climate change, December 15 to March 15 may be better. Learn more at www.dec.ny.gov.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.

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