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Black bear breaks into zoo

A bear broke into a Tennessee zoo earlier this week.

A neighbor called the Knoxville Zoo late Monday night and alerted a ranger, saying there was a bear in a nearby park, according to Tina Rolen, assistant director of marketing at the zoo.

A short while later, the ranger saw what he presumed to be the same bear climbing over a fence and into the zoo.

But it was unclear where, exactly, the ursine interloper wound up.

The ranger had to wake up the zoo’s four resident bears on Monday to conduct a "nose count."

“They weren’t too happy with us,” said Rolen. After multiple sweeps the next morning, zoo employees once again counted only the four bears that are supposed to be there.

Rolen said the bear was probably a black bear, based on what is native to Knoxville.

“He must have left as quickly as he came,” said Rolen.

While the zoo has encountered dogs, cats and other small animals trying to break in, Rolen said a bear visit was “a first for us.”

However, she wasn’t surprised since numerous bear sightings have been reported in the area recently.

Rolen said because it is breeding season and because the bears are in the process of “fattening up” to get ready to hibernate, they are more likely to “roam around the area” looking for food and mates.

“They can sneak up on you” but usually “they really don’t want any part of us, they’re afraid of us,” said Rolen, adding that their diets consist mostly of berries, acorns and insects.

A chairman of the Bear Specialist Group and expert on human-bear relations, John Beecham, said in an email, “bears moving through urban areas do not pose much of a threat to people.”

From what the ranger could see, the bear was about 150 to 200 pounds, leading him to believe he or she was quite young, Rolen said.

Beecham explained, “In some cases, you will find young bears and females living in close proximity to urban areas because it provides [them] with a level of security that they don't have when competing with large males in wilder environments.”

But Rolen had come up with her own, slightly less-scientific reasoning. “We do have one of the best bear habitats in the country. Word is out in the bear community that our bears are spoiled,” she said.