MDC urges public to ‘Be Bear Aware’ after black bear struck, killed near Festus

A black bear has been struck and killed on I-55 near Festus, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 3:39 PM CDT
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FESTUS, Mo. (KMOV) - A black bear has been struck and killed on I-55 near Festus, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). It is suspected to be the same bear residents of the area had been reporting over the past week.

Missouri state law enforcement made the last report of the bear alive around 7 p.m. Tuesday evening. The initial report of a bear seen on the highway after a collision was made at 8:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Josh Johnson said he saw it digging in his trash cans after his wife spotted it first.

“She was looking out this front door. Sure as hell there was a bear right there between the two trash cans, had one knocked over,” he said.

Johnson said the bear ran off when he opened the door. The bear was later seen near the YMCA in Festus.

The bear was struck on northbound I-55, north of the Highway 67 intersection.

According to Dan Zarlenga with the Missouri Department of Conservation, there are approximately 900 bears in Missouri and the population is growing at about 9% each year.

“Now slowly they’re expanding further and further north. So, we can expect to see more bear sightings as the years go by,” said Zarlenga.

Zarlenga said the bear was believed to be a young male that was on the move in search of new territory. He said that’s typical at this time of year.

It is believed to be the same bear reported by area residents due to its similar size and red-tinted fur. Red fur on black bears is considered a normal, yet uncommon, characteristic dubbed the “cinnamon phase,” in which the bear’s fur is red or red and white.

Bears are also looking for food and are attracted by trash cans. It’s recommended you wait until trash day to put out your bins. Bears are also attracted by the smell of backyard grills, bird feeders and pet food that have been set outside.

Zarlenga said when bears find food in populated areas, they’ll stick around, but that puts them at risk of being hit by a vehicle. Festus Police told News 4 that officers were notified about the dead bear on the interstate but that the driver that hit it didn’t stop.

The bear is being brought to MDC’s Wildlife Health Veterinary Lab in Columbia for a full necropsy and genetic sampling.

For more information on bear safety or to report a black bear sighting, you can visit the MDC website.