Why are more people finding bears in their neighborhoods?

MAIDEN, N.C. — North Carolina is on bear watch.

Sightings across our area are increasing, from a bear swimming in Lake Norman to another bear caught face-to-face with a man in his backyard.

Channel 9′s Ken Lemon spoke with one neighbor who said he’s encountered more than a dozen bears, so he wasn’t scared. But for a moment, he didn’t quite know what might happen next.

“I felt myself kinda lucky,” Richard Tavares told Lemon.

Tavares knows bears are a rare sight around Maiden, but he saw one Monday morning while in his house near Startown Road.

“I had been looking out the window, and I saw him walk across my backyard,” Tavares said.

He saw the bear going into the woods but thought it might get close to an RV park nearby, so he walked outside and caught up to it in his neighbor’s yard.

“He saw me when we were out in the street and he came around the bush, and he was a little startled,” Tavares said. “I’m like, ‘”Is he going to run towards me?’”

Luckily, it didn’t. The bear ran away.

Tavares isn’t the only one who has seen bears in Maiden recently. Another man in Maiden captured grainy video of a bear that appeared to be a little bigger than the one Tavares ran into.

“There is a black bear going down through our yard,” he said.

Veronica D’Amelio is the lead animal keeper at the Schiele Museum of Natural History, and she’s keeping an eye on the sightings.

“They are not used to people and they’re scared of them, so that’s a good thing,” D’Amelio said.

D’Amelio says black bears in North Carolina run from people, but that fear will vanish if you leave food out for them.

She added that there are more bears because people realize they’re not preying on people or pets, and fewer people are hunting them.

The season also plays a role.

“This time of year, there are young bears that are looking for female bears. There are also a lot of young bears who have been kicked out by their mother, essentially,” D’Amelio said.

She said young bears like the one Tavares saw were likely forced to live on their own for the first time, and they’re looking for a new place to call home.

Experts stress not to leave food outside or anything that might attract a bear. If you see one, give the bear space and it will likely leave you alone.

(VIDEO: Group of people caught on video pulling bear cubs from tree to take pictures with them)

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