Amherst police spent more than an hour searching for a black bear spotted in the town Thursday only to be reminded that the creatures – even those injured by a vehicle – are elusive.
About half a dozen members of the department didn't have any luck after checking an area near the Lockport Expressway, where a driver reported hitting the bear earlier Thursday.
"We have been telling folks NOT to pursue him. But we felt we should try and determine if he was injured, as that information could alter the direction given by the DEC," Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen said in an email, referring to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Authorities have had a hard time catching up with the bear – or bears.
Members of the public over the past week have reported seeing black bears in Clarence, Amherst, North Tonawanda, Wheatfield and Youngstown. The most recent, on Friday morning, came in the Village of Attica.
A driver was traveling on state Route 354, known as West Main Street in Attica, near Bunnell Street at 4 a.m. when he initially thought he saw a very large dog. As he slowed down, however, he came to believe it was a younger adult bear.
"It's starting to seem like Bigfoot sightings," one wag observed.
Bear experts said it's not surprising that so many sightings are coming in from the public now. This is the time of year when young bears, especially, are on the move to seek new territory, said Ryan Rockefeller, a DEC wildlife biologist in the Southern Tier.
Of course, black bears are found throughout much of Western New York and heavily forested upstate New York, Rockefeller said.
Without distinct markings or a tag placed by state biologists, it's almost impossible to tell how many bears are the focus of the sightings.
Experts recommend giving black bears a wide berth. They urge people to never approach or corner a bear, to never run away from a bear and to never feed a bear. Walk away slowly from any bear encounter, talking in a steady voice if necessary to remind the bear that you are human and not a meal.
Bears that are injured, such as the bear hit on the 990, can be a problem because they can feel more stressed out, said Caitlyn Bruce, primary polar bear keeper at the zoo.
"If they ever feel threatened, they can do a lot of damage," she said.
That's why Amherst police sent out a lieutenant with a thermal imaging camera, an animal control officer and several other officers to check a treeline along the North French Recreation Area, near the 990, Cohen said, but they came up empty. Rockefeller said the DEC doesn't have any additional information about the wounded bear, but he's not surprised it survived the collision.
"Bears and most wildlife are surprisingly resilient," he said.