Ambling along the South Coast, a young, inquisitive male bear has charmed residents during his travels over the past month, breezing from town to town, eluding every attempt to capture him, and becoming something of a celebrity in the process.
Straying well beyond the established black bear range in Massachusetts, “Buster,” as those endeared to his presence now call him, wandered into Plymouth on Saturday, one of his latest stops on his solitary march through the suburbs south of Boston.
Shortly before noon, the police department received its first report of the bear on Bourne Road, not far from an elementary school, said Captain Jason Higgins. Within an hour, the department posted an alert that “Buster the Bear is here,” along with a list of recommendations, such as leaving him alone and removing any outside food sources.
Before long, the Buster fanfare was off and running.
On social media, residents have tracked his every move, from outside a CrossFit facility to the woods near a Home Depot. The town’s Facebook page is filled with videos and photos of the estimated 80- to 100-pound bear, questions about his latest whereabouts, and memes galore. Buster has been photoshopped visiting Plymouth Rock, aboard the Mayflower, relaxing on a giant chair welcoming visitors, and hopping off the trolley by the waterfront downtown.
“This bear gets around,” quipped one poster.
Higgins said he couldn’t remember any previous reports of a bear in town during his 26-year-career, but noted the state Environmental Police briefed officers a couple of months ago about this very scenario.
“I think it’s something new,” he said of Buster’s celebrity. “And the bear certainly is pretty cute-looking and cuddly.”
Like a child let loose at the playground, the approximately 2-year-old bear has been on the move in recent days, roaming through backyards and devouring seed mixes from bird feeders, often seen standing on his hind legs, sometimes swatting playfully at tree branches.
To document his travels, residents created a Facebook page called “Where is NE Black Bear?” and since Sunday people have been reporting the latest sightings.
About 15 minutes after Kristen Sass learned Buster had arrived in town on Saturday, she looked out her window and saw the bear behind her home. She quickly called her children over to see.
Her young kids watched in awe as the bear meandered up the path into their yard, walked around the back of the house, and tried unsuccessfully to get into the trash. After acting “so chilled” during his five-minute visit, he moved along to his next stop.
“It’s exciting, but holy moly. That’s an actual bear,” said Sass, 36. “It felt unreal. I never thought that we would see one at home. ... I don’t really see him being a problem. I just hope everyone gives him his space.”
Wildlife experts believe that it’s Buster, and Buster alone, that is responsible for the dozens of bear sightings since May 14. On Tuesday, there was a report of a bear inspecting a chicken coop in a backyard in Lakeville, about 20 miles from Plymouth, where it had been seen the day before. WBSM, a radio station based in New Bedford, has been tracking the sightings on map, with a constellation of bear icons across the South Coast.
“We still think it is only the one. Certainly the one is accounting for the trail of sightings that most have been following,” said Dave Wattles, black bear and furbearer biologist for MassWildlife. Because of the excitement over the bear, officials are not sharing its precise location so people won’t try to pursue it. Some have already done so, at times forcing the animal into more developed and populated areas.
Black bears are not inherently aggressive towards people, but people unfamiliar with dealing with wildlife often approach too closely, leading to potentially dangerous situations, Wattles said.
“If that animal feels threatened it can react defensively,” he said. “We hope that doesn’t happen.”
While it’s not unusual for black bears to venture into Eastern Massachusetts, Plymouth is a new frontier. But sightings are likely to become more common as the state’s bear population continues to grow, he said.
“This one just happened to go in a direction that there aren’t any bears, so it’s now being seen all the time. It’s novel everywhere it goes,” Wattles said. “Now, it’s just kind of wandering because it’s not seeing any bears.”
When Ken Scott heard there was a black bear in Plymouth, he eagerly monitored posts about its travels. Scott, 64, lives in a cottage with his wife surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and nearby Myles Standish State Forest. On Memorial Day, the couple was at a neighbor’s house and chatting with their friends about the bear, which wasn’t surprising since it’s “the topic everywhere.”
Then he heard his friend, who had gone out to flip steaks, yell out, “The bear is here! The bear is here!”
Scott was convinced his friend was messing with him until he peered over the porch and saw Buster heading toward his house. Knowing that a family friend, Melissa Powers, 50, was at their cottage and unaware the bear was so close, Scott jumped in the car with his wife and rushed over to warn her. From his porch, he heard the rustling of leaves and crackling of branches close by.
“That’s when Melissa and I both started filming, and the little guy actually just walked right up to us,” Scott said. “He came within 10 feet of the porch. He just sauntered up there, like without a care in the world.”
Referring to the bear as “everybody’s little pet,” Scott said seeing it up close was a “once-in-a-lifetime encounter that you only dream about.”
Over the past couple of years, the bear population in Worcester County has reached a critical mass, with the number of females increasing rapidly and causing more bears — typically males, which will move about 50 to 100 miles when they leave their mothers between 16 and 17 months old — to disperse and push further east, Wattles said. There is a bear in Franklin and Wrentham almost every year now, he added.
“It can be a slow process for that actual range to shift,” since it relies on females to cross major highways, Wattles said. “But increasingly, we’re getting these young males that are moving out of our established range.”
Proving the point, Wattles said Wednesday that officials “may have new information” of a second bear that has been in Carver, which borders Plymouth. In a Facebook post, the Carver Police Department notified residents of “several reports of a black bear in the South Carver area.”
For now, officials plan to let Buster keep exploring, taking action only if he crosses into a “very, very highly developed location.” But Wattles said he doesn’t anticipate the bear “settling down really anytime soon given his behavior in the past year.”
The hype probably won’t either.