In wildlife work, happy endings, feel-good stories and grand conclusions can be elusive.
Such is the case with the “Kings Beach Bear,” the big black bear that made national news in 2020 by entering local businesses on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore in search of food and crashing Kings Beach get-togethers, sending partygoers fleeing and helping itself to birthday cake and other treats. In the end, researchers may never know the ultimate fate of the animal also known as the “Safeway Bear” or the “Chevron Bear” for the Tahoe businesses it so brazenly frequented.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists recovered the bear’s GPS tracking collar April 6 deep within the Stanislaus National Forest, near Beardsley Reservoir in Tuolumne County. The bear’s collar was completely intact, clasped closed and lying on the forest floor about 27 air miles southwest of CDFW’s Leek Springs Ecological Reserve in El Dorado County, where the bear was originally released Sept. 6, 2020.
“The collar had been sending satellite signals from the same location since January, but because of the snowpack, we couldn’t access it until April,” said Shelly Blair, CDFW’s unit wildlife biologist for Alpine and El Dorado counties. “We think the bear slipped the collar months before we could get to it. Originally, we thought the bear was denning in that location, but the site where we recovered the collar did not have any denning areas that we could find.”
Earlier collar signals showed the bear made a successful crossing of Highway 88 and passed through the Mokelumne River drainage above Salt Springs Reservoir into Amador County in October.
While bear scat and bear prints were found near the collar recovery site, no carcass or other evidence turned up indicating the current state of the bear. CDFW scientists suspect the collar – a modified, refurbished elk tracking collar – came free as the bear lost winter weight in the wild – removed from a diet of human food and garbage around Lake Tahoe.
CDFW trapped the Kings Beach bear that first week in September 2020. A veterinary exam revealed an old – more than 15 years old – male bear weighing a whopping 512 pounds with bad teeth and a poorly healed injury on its left hind foot. Due to its old age and lack of available space, placement in a permanent wildlife facility or zoo was not an option. The bear was taken to a large expanse of wild habitat on CDFW property in El Dorado County and released. In addition to a GPS tracking collar, the bear was outfitted with two identifying ear tags – a metal tag in its left ear numbered 1217 and a plastic orange tag in its right ear numbered 1274.
Although the bear’s whereabouts are unknown, CDFW does know that the bear stayed in the wild – for a few months at least before shedding its tracking collar. As far as CDFW is aware, the old bear has never returned to Lake Tahoe’s North Shore where it caused such a stir last year and earned its celebrity status.