The Charlotte area is seeing bears, gators and even bobcats. Here’s why.

A bear seen on Tuesday in Matthews at U.S. 74 near Interstate 485.
A bear seen on Tuesday in Matthews at U.S. 74 near Interstate 485. Matthews Police

It’s been a jungle around Charlotte lately.

Over the past few days, a black bear was seen loping around Matthews and Union County. Two alligators were run over by cars near Charlotte.

In mid-May, a woman said she saw a bobcat in northeast Charlotte. And coyote sightings continue to mount.

So what’s going on around here?

“I think it’s just part of being a North Carolinian,” said Rupert Medford, a Charlotte region district biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “I don’t think it’s Charlotte exclusive by a long shot.


“An animal has a lot less cover in Charlotte so when they are there they are much more likely to be seen,” he said.

There also hasn’t been an increase in calls to the commission about sightings, according to Medford. Sightings tend to be seasonal, he said, and more animals are visible during the longer days now.

I could see (the bobcat) and was like, oh my God, I was just floored.

Sara Fisher

Here’s a breakdown on the latest animal kingdom activities:

Da bear

The biggest news from the call of the wild lately has been a black bear.

It was first spotted in Union County on Saturday in Waxhaw’s Cureton neighborhood. The next day, a woman posted on Facebook that she saw the bear in the Wesley Chapel area crossing the street near a Target. “It looks like a very young bear. He is quite tiny and was by himself.”

By Tuesday, a bear was seen about 15 miles north in Matthews.

When Matthews Police Department put a photo of the bear on its Facebook page Tuesday, it reached upwards of 100,000 people within a day, a record for the department, Officer Tim Aycock said.

In its post, the agency warned people against approaching or feeding the bear, but said there was no need to call police unless the bear was hurt or threatening someone.

On Wednesday night, someone struck a bear on Interstate 485 near Exit 57, Providence Road, in south Charlotte, authorities said. It’s not known if it’s the same bear that was in Matthews and Waxhaw, but it apparently survived and went into the woods.

Early May through mid-June represents breeding season for bears, Medford said.

Bear car
This is the front of the car that hit a bear on I-485 Wednesday night. Alex Giles WBTV

Smaller, younger male bears can be pushed out of their home areas during this time by bigger male bears. While bear populations are usually found in the mountains and coast, Medford said they can disperse 100 miles away or more before they leave if no female bears are around.

I think the take-home message is there’s really nothing to worry about.

Rupert Medford, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission district biologist

“So it’s not a huge surprise” one was spotted in the area, he added. “We’re just seeing one of them come through.”

Gators on the road

Unlike the bear, the gators were killed on the road.

One was hit by a car Sunday night in western York County, S.C., and later died. It was near Beaver Dam Creek northwest of Clover, S.C., about 30 miles southwest of Charlotte, officials said.

Police do not know where it came from but suspect someone had kept it then released it when it got too big.

In Union County, a 6-foot gator was struck by a vehicle and killed Monday night on U.S. 74 near Marshville, WSOC-TV reported.

Medford called it a fluke that two alligators turned up in the region.

No one has clamored for a sign like this yet in the Charlotte area. Lynne Sladky AP

In North Carolina, most alligators reside in the southeastern part of the state, and none have been recorded living naturally past eastern Scotland County, four counties away from Charlotte.

The city lacks the wetlands and swamps that alligators prefer for breeding and raising their young.

An alligator swam around for spectators in a pond off of No. 10 during the final round of the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing on Sunday, April 16, 2017, at Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.

A bobcat sighting

One night in mid-May, Sara Fisher was walking her dog off Eastfield Road near the Shops of Eastfield Village in the University area when something caught her eye.

Across the street, an animal came out of a wooded area.

Fisher got a good look at it for a few seconds when it paused under a street light before moving off to a back yard. It had fur sticking out to a point on its ears and a fluffy tail.

Sara Fisher Courtesy Sara Fisher

“I could see it and was like, oh my God, I was just floored,” Fisher said. “I was able to tell it was a bobcat under the light. But when I got home, I Googled ‘bobcat’ just to make sure.”

From the description, Medford said it sounds like Fisher did indeed see a bobcat. They are rare in the Charlotte area but do turn up.

Bevy of Bobcats
A northeast Charlotte woman said she saw a bobcat in her neighborhood off Eastfield Road in mid-May. James Quigg The Daily Press via AP

Unlike foxes or deer, bobcats generally are afraid of people, Medford said. But they will thrive in areas around Mecklenburg County that offer a good, thick brush as a habitat, he said.

Meanwhile, Marty McInerney says he recently came across what was possibly a mountain lion, or maybe a bobcat, in his south Charlotte backyard off Weddington Road.

The animal had a long tail and a rabbit in its mouth, and jumped his fence in one bound. “It was almost surreal to see that in my backyard,” McInerney said.

Marty McInerney Courtesy Marty McInerney

After he posted on social media many doubted what he saw.

Medford thinks McInerney also misidentified what he saw. Perhaps it was a bobcat but it definitely wasn’t a mountain lion, Medford said, adding: “There is absolutely zero evidence of any big cats in North Carolina.”

Finally, Mecklenburg residents continue to report seeing coyotes. Ten people contacted the county last month, including one who saw a pair near his Matthews yard during the day.

‘Nothing to worry about’

There are a few basic tips that people should follow with wildlife, experts say.

That includes securing trash cans, not leaving pet food outdoors and not dumping extra food outside. Animals will typically run off if you make noise or yell at them, Medford said

And if you see an animal, leave it alone.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police says the only time to call 911 about wildlife is if the animals are threatening or attacking them, or appear rabid. People should call 311 if their pet is exposed to a wild animal and are concerned about rabies.

“I think the take-home message is there’s really nothing to worry about,” Medford said. “Folks in either direction, east or west (of Charlotte) have the same critters...and they carry on as normal.”

The (Rock Hill) Herald contributed

Adam Bell: 704-358-5696, @abell

Have a wildlife question?

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently launched a call center for the public. It handles: questions about N.C. wildlife species; concerns about diseased, orphaned or injured wildlife; questions about wildlife that may pose a threat to people, pets or property; and reported observations of wildlife. Call 866-318-2401 weekdays between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.