BARRY — An American black bear is making rare tracks through west-central Illinois, in the process developing a large social media following that is attracting hundreds of people to the bear's path.
The turnout of people, however, is more of a problem than the bear for folks at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
"The issue is that the bear has become a social (media) phenomenon," Stefanie Fitzsimons, large carnivore biologist for IDNR, said.
The bear has been seen north of Illinois Route 27, east of Barry, and hundreds of spectators were on hand to watch and take pictures. American black bears typically stick to more northern areas, including northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan, though they also can be found in parts of southern Missouri.
"I understand that people want to see the bear, and that's OK, but there are too many" people, Fitzsimons said. "Please take your pictures and then leave."
There were so many people at the last sighting that conservation police lost their visual track of the bear as a result of the crowd, she said.
Conservation police are telling people to stay at least 100 yards away from the bear -- to protect both the bear and the people.
Based on photos she is seeing online, that advice is not being heeded, Fitzsimons said.
"These people were way closer than that," she said.
IDNR has not definitively determined the sex of the bear but, because of its size and the fact that it's mating season, when male bears tend to travel, officials believe it's a male. Social media has dubbed the bear "Bruno."
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed a bill that supporters hope will make a long-debated Chicago casino more attractive to potential developers.
The bear was first sighted June 5 in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin officials notified IDNR of its travels.
"June 10 it crossed over the (Illinois) state line," Fitzsimons said, adding that it then crossed into Iowa.
After spending a week in Iowa, the bear crossed back into Illinois at Andalusia and since has continued south.
The bear is keeping its travels trouble-free, Fitzsimons said.
"This bear hasn't even touched a garbage can," she said. "It is a timid species, but you don't want to provoke it. This is something we haven't seen before. We're not quite sure what it's thinking."
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has been alerted that the bear is heading south, but wildlife officials have no intention of sedating the bear or attempting to relocate it, Fitzsimons said.
"It's not a good idea to dart and relocate it," she said. "We want nature to take its course."
The American black bear is a protected species in Illinois, meaning it is illegal to hunt or harass the animals.