Goat is missing, bear is back and sunflowers are history

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A photogenic bear, a missing goat, sunflowers plundered by deer — Windsor Castle Park is evolving into its own peculiar version of Animal Farm. 

The black bear is back and apparently not hard to spot. Some say he brought along a friend this time. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

While patrolling the perimeter of the goat pen Monday in a noisy pickup truck, the bear casually ambled along a path inside the electric fence. When a woman walked by with her camera phone, he almost seemed to strike a pose. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

And that’s the problem, said biologist Pete Acker with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 

Acker rode along with Smithfield Town Council member Wayne Hall on Monday, as Hall has now spotted the bear on several occasions. 

Acker said the bear may have returned for some more of those hot dog buns smeared with peanut butter and topped with gooey honey. That was the method used last time to lure the bear out of the goat pen. 

Acker advised against more food, as that’s what bears like. If the bear snatches one of the goats or gets more habituated to humans, he suggested laying a trap and “roughing up” the bear. 

That is, give the bear a healthy dose of fear about humans, but not hurt him, said Acker, adding that a trap would be a last resort. If there’s two bears, that’s another issue.

Hall agreed it’s getting to be a problem. 

“He’s getting used to us,” said Hall. 

At the same time, one of the goats has gone missing. 

The wily herd of goats were hired to eat the English ivy and underbrush in a thicket next to the kayak launch. They’re kept in check with an electric fence.

It seems the goats’ owner, Dave (his last name being kept confidential for fear of more goat business requests, according to Mayor Carter Williams) went into the pen looking for the missing goat. Dave heard a twig snap behind him, turned around and found himself face-to-face with the bear, said Williams, who gleefully told the story to The Smithfield Times.

The bear, described as a “sub-adult” weighing in at a mere 50-pounds according to an estimate by Acker, reared up. 

Dave reared up in response and the bear backed off, said Williams. 

So far, no one has found the goat, alive or dead, said Williams.

Acker said it’s unlikely the bear killed the goat, given his status as a year-and-a-half old male recently kicked out by his momma and trying to find a new territory to call his own. 

“He’s young and dumb like we’ve all been before,” said Acker. 

Acker said his youthful lack of knowledge and wisdom is likely what got him stuck at the park in the first place. 

Last year, the big attraction at the park was the sunflowers and they drew thousands. This year it’s the bear, as photos of the bear have been shared all around town. 

Farmer Dean Stallings planted the sunflowers earlier this year, but the fearless herd of deer — now nearly tame enough to pet — chewed the tender little plants to the ground. They didn’t have a chance. 

Meanwhile, the bear occupation will get worse if the bear, or bears, become more accustomed to people, and worse, if folks toss in a ham sandwich or two, said Acker. 

Acker advises people to not feed the bear under any circumstances. 

“That’s the progression we may be on and that’s what we need to watch,” said Acker.

The problem with moving the bear is that there is little area left uninhabited by another bear. 

If DGIF moves the bear, he may get eaten by another bear or become a problem elsewhere, said Acker.

“Things won’t go well for him,” said Acker. 

Don’t feed the bear

The bear has returned to Windsor Castle Park and there are reports he has brought a “friend.” Do not feed the bear, or bears, under any circumstances, advised biologist Pete Acker with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The goal is to get the bear to move on elsewhere, and if it becomes necessary, a trap will be set. If the bear becomes too habituated and a threat to people, the last resort is to destroy it, said Acker, adding that feeding bears year-round is illegal.   {/mprestriction}