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A bear spooked shoppers in Charlotte. It's the latest in a string of sightings.

Bear spotted in downtown Myrtle Beach area

A bear wandered into a wooded area in Myrtle Beach Wednesday morning in the area of Carver Street and Oak Street. Myrtle Beach police and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officials were called to the scene.
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A bear wandered into a wooded area in Myrtle Beach Wednesday morning in the area of Carver Street and Oak Street. Myrtle Beach police and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officials were called to the scene.

The black bear who scattered shoppers at the StoneCrest shopping center near Ballantyne on Monday night became the latest in a string of sightings in the Charlotte area in recent weeks.

It's not an invasion — a state biologist says young males routinely wander this time of year as they search for territory to claim, and will soon leave. But it's also true that North Carolina's growing bear population, concentrated on both ends of of the state, is expanding in to the interior.

"Our bear population is increasing over time," said Rupert Medford, a district wildlife biologist for Mecklenburg and nine other counties. "The mountain and coastal populations have grown, and the range of breeding females is little by little moving into the Piedmont."

News reports say bears were spotted last Wednesday in Mount Holly and the next day in Huntersville. On June 8, Iredell County resident Alice Stewart said something nearly knocked her down as she rounded her carport.

"When I opened my eyes to see what I hit, it was a bear. I screamed and screamed and screamed, and I just went to pieces," she told WCNC.

Bears generally avoid people, the state Wildlife Resources Commission says. While bears have killed people in the mountains of Tennessee this century, no unprovoked attacks on humans in North Carolina have been recorded, the agency says.

Some of the recent sightings in the Charlotte area could be of the same bear.

The wandering young bears, typically about 2 years old, won't stay in an area unless they find females, Medford said. No breeding females live in the district that includes Mecklenburg and nine other counties east of it, he said.

The phenomenon of young males wandering after being pushed out of their home territories by older, more aggressive bears typically lasts through July, Medford said.

A black bear runs through downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee and just keeps going.

An estimated 20,000 bears roam North Carolina, up from just 2,000 in 1980, and inhabit more than half the state's land. Hunters killed more than 3,400 bears in the most recent season.

A study of the many urban bears in the Asheville area found that most residents are warily tolerant of the animals, rarely reaching for guns. Last month, video showed that two bears in Asheville broke the window of a Toyota Prius, climbed in and helped themselves to the groceries left inside.

There are a couple of keys to getting along with the animals, state biologists say.

One is to always be cautious around them, especially mother bears with cubs. The other is to keep food sources such as garbage, pet food and bird feeders out of their reach.

A black bear swam across the Black river in South Carolina.

Bruce Henderson: 7041-358-5051; @bhender
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