|At left, the bear makes its way down the tree after hearing loud pops. Above, a media phalanx assembled to track the animal.
A small black bear appeared on the fringes of the NIH campus around 11 a.m. on June 19. For the rest of the afternoon, his sojourn eclipsed virtually all other activities as it drew crowds of spectators and hordes of media, including a TV news helicopter that hovered for hours over the pine grove where the bear spent much of the time up a tree.
Campus security cameras had detected a bear ambling across the Commercial Vehicle Inspection Facility lot at 1:22 a.m. on June 19. It appeared to come from Rockville Pike and headed toward campus parallel to North Dr. A bear’s appearance on security video was a campus first, authorities said.
|The bear spent about 3 hours high up in a pine tree.
By the time the bear was neutralized by tranquilizer darts fired by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the creature had at least two Twitter accounts and had been tweeted about by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins: “Hey @NIH_Bear, great to have you & your sense of humor on the #NIH campus. Sorry about that dart thing, but hope you enjoy your new digs.” A day later, the “bear” had tweeted 331 times and attracted 2,252 followers to its @NIH_Bear account; there was also a “bethesda bear” Twitter handle.
Campus police received the original report of a bear sighting at 10:55 a.m.; it was near the Medical Center Metro Station. Once they confirmed the report, they contacted the Maryland DNR for assistance. After crowds started to form, the NIH Police and Fire Departments created a safe perimeter in the event the bear decided to come down from the tree. A cautionary email was sent to NIH staff alerting them to the presence of the bear on campus.
DNR staff planned to use loud noises, similar to fireworks, to encourage the bear to leave the tree. NIH staff erected fencing meant to discourage the bear from running toward Rockville Pike.
The loud pops were successful and the bear came down from the tree. He ran further into the campus via the South Dr. entrance and into a densely wooded area near Bldg. 21, across the street from Bldg. 1. DNR staff followed the bear and successfully tranquilized it. Once unconscious, the bear was further inspected by DNR staff. It was confirmed to be a male, about 1½ years of age, about 100-125 lbs., and in good health.
DNR staff took the sleeping bear and released it into the wild in western Montgomery County. They said the bear population is growing in Maryland and such suburban sightings could become a more common event in the future.
“In my nearly 36 years here, it’s the first bear visit that I’ve known or heard of,” said NIH landscape architect Lynn Mueller.
Crowds formed to see what the bear would do. The tranquilized creature had a story to tell once it woke up.
Photos: Brooke Bready, Brad Moss