BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — It sits upstairs, next to the albino deer, in the Kingman Museum's forest exhibit.
It's a juvenile black bear, perhaps a year and a half old when it died, weighing perhaps 200 pounds. It's been a nice addition to the small Battle Creek museum, a great example of the wildlife that exists in this part of Michigan.
And while the bear has been on display for nearly two years, it's probably safe to say the bear's history isn't well known to many of those who have walked by to admire the display in that time.
"It's a good story," said Donna Roberts, who now coordinates many aspects of the museum and is one of the few people who know what really happened. "It's some good short-term publicity for us."
It's been a little more than four years now since the black bear, probably disowned by its mother, wandered down from northern Michigan looking for food. It was early morning May 16, 2008, when a Battle Creek police officer, responding to a domestic assault call on Battle Creek's north side, shined a light down Calhoun Street and saw the young bear in the middle of the road.
Unsure if they were looking at a bear, a rare sight in this part of Michigan, or a big dog, several officers converged. They shot the bear several times and one officer even hit the animal with his patrol car.
Less than an hour later, the wounded animal was found up a tree next to Fremont Elementary School, where it was shot again and killed. The state Department of Natural Resources took the remains.
"It was basically killed out of season and when that happens, the DNR confiscates it for evidence," said Sara Schaefer, who is now the DNR's wildlife biologist for Calhoun County but back then was the DNR's regional manager.
The bear carcass sat in a Department of Natural Resources freezer in Lansing for more than a year while state and local officials tried to decide what to do with it.
Finally, the bear was taken to a taxidermist, mounted and loaned to Kingman to display. It will eventually be returned to the DNR and may be displayed elsewhere.
"We may pass the mount around for educational purposes," Schaefer said.
The incident has proved an educational experience for police as well. Though officers were reacting to a wild bear loose in a populated area, many local residents were upset at the way the animal was treated and blamed Battle Creek police for a lack of sensitivity.
"It was a rarity and people hadn't been educated," Schaefer said.
In the meantime, the DNR has trained local law enforcement and written guidelines called the "Bear Management Plan" on how to deal with bears that show up in urban settings.
Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com
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