(Photo by Megan Mountzoures)
It was a wild Monday in the suburbs west of Boston, with reports of a black bear ambling down by the Charles River in Needham and sightings of a 600-pound moose racing through backyards and across streets in Wellesley.
“Unbelievable! He got up on his hinds, he was big,” said Needham resident Walter Hasenfus, who spotted the bear in the woods behind the Charles River Landing luxury apartments on Second Avenue. “He was right on the edge of the banks, he was just moseying along, didn’t have a care in the world.”
When the bear saw Hasenfus, it stood up on its hind legs and stared him down for about five seconds before dropping back down and heading north along the river. The bear, said Hasenfus, appeared to be taller than his own nearly six-foot frame.
“I’m still excited over it,” he said of his bear encounter shortly before 1 pm Monday.
Later in the afternoon, Regis Price, 12, of Wellesley, was less pleased to find herself just 30 yards away from a moose in her neighbor’s backyard.
“All of a sudden, I see this big animal galloping away. It was tall and skinny and its legs had really big knee bones. It was weird. I just started screaming,” she said. “I wasn’t scared, I just wanted someone to get it.”
Authorities in both towns searched for the creatures Monday afternoon, but without success.
The suburban sightings follow a rash of similar wildlife reports across the state – coyotes, of course, and more recently, black bears. One particularly adventurous bear spent weeks roaming Cape Cod, romping through cranberry bogs and backyards and spawning bear-themed T-shirts before being tranquilized in Wellfleet.
A bear was spotted in a few yards around Norwood Saturday night, according to local police. And State Environmental Police investigated reports of a black bear in the woods along Route 109 in Dedham Sunday morning. Officers did not locate the bear, and officials speculated it had moved on.
There is no way to know if it’s the same animal spotted in Needham, said Reggie Zimmerman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“It’s possible, but I can’t really say definitively,” he said. “Bears do travel great distances, they are capable of that.”
One possible reason for the recent uptick in bears-about-town: the bears are out looking for that special someone.
It’s black bear mating season, said Zimmerman, and the young males are striking off in search of their own patch of land to call home.
“They’re searching for a mate,” he said. “They’re like teenagers.”
Zimmerman said that there were about 3,000 bears in the state as of 2005, but their numbers have been slowly growing, and the population has been expanding into eastern Massachusetts in search of food and open territory.
Bears are timid, he said, and the Division has no record of any black bear attacks in the state. Still, he said, wild animals are best viewed from a distance.
Some people were alarmed that a bear had shown up in Needham.
“I live in a wooded area, I’m always joking with my kids – ‘I bet there’s a bear out there,’” said Newton resident Rhonda Burris, who was stopping into a Petco near where the Needham bear was spotted. “I won’t be going out at night.”
Others were just worried for the bear.
“I just hope they understand we have to live in harmony with nature right now,” said Needham resident Lisa Higgins. “I would hate to see them kill the bear.”
By Monday night, the bear was nowhere to be found.
“The bear has left the scene,” said Zimmerman.
The moose, too, seemed to have evaded capture, much to the chagrin of residents toting cameras and hoping to catch a glimpse.
(Photo by David Dew)
While authorities combed Wellesley backyards Monday afternoon, people puttered around in their cars hollering out the latest updates on the moose’s location from the police scanners. Groups on foot swapped backyard-sighting stories, and shared pictures on cell phones. They gathered with cameras at the ready to watch as authorities blocked off a home on Lexington Road to search its woody backyard for the wild interloper.
Wellesley Police worked with Environmental Police to track the moose for hours from the area of Reeds Pond, where the moose reportedly went swimming, to Lexington Road and Shirley Road.
According to the Wellesley Police, had they found the errant mammal, they would have first tried to guide it to a safer location away from Route 9. If coaxing didn’t work, the Environmental Police were ready to tranquilize the moose and relocate it to a safer area.
“Poor moose,” said John Edwards, who lives in Wellesley. “I hope it doesn’t die.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org