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Officer Donald Jewell was patrolling the outskirts of the city early Thursday when he spotted something unusual.
The headlights on his cruiser revealed something big and black and four-legged walking along the edge of the roadway on KY 1618 – the connector road of Lincoln Parkway.
Jewell radioed dispatch to report what he thought was a black bear wearing a red collar.
“I thought I’d lost my mind,” he said.
“When he heard the radio, he turned sideways and looked at me,” added Jewell.
The bear plodded along in the emergency lane until he reached the intersection with Campbellsville Road. There, a pair of large trucks “spooked” him, Jewell said, and the bear ran into a nearby field.
That’s when he lost track of the bear.
The animal did not appear to be in any hurry or have a particular destination.
“He was calm,” said Jewell, “a little calmer than I was at the time.”
Jewell said he was hesitant to report the sighting to dispatch because he knew he’d “hear about it.”
“I’ve been rode over it a lot,” he said.
He didn’t get a photo of the animal.
Jewell reported the sighting to Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. KFW officers checked the area for tracks but did not find anything conclusive.
They did offer Jewell some advice if he were to spot another bruin.
“They told me to ‘herd him out’ like a cow,” said Jewell. “I thought, yeah, cows ain’t got claws.”
Steven Dobey, wildlife program coordinator for KFW, said LaRue County “is certainly outside the general black bear range.” The bears are usually found in eastern Kentucky.
He’s heard a few reports of a black bear with a red collar in Kentucky – but he believes it is probably an ear tag instead of a collar.
“If it has been trapped before it will have a red ear tag for research purposes,” Dobey said.
It’s unusual for a bear to travel this time of year, he added, although mother bears do chase away their yearling cubs in the spring.
The few bears that have been spotted in central Kentucky usually show up in June or July – prime mating season.
“They can travel quite a distance,” he said, adding a bear was documented in Nelson, Washington and Taylor counties in 2007.
Dobey said he is “very interested in confirming and documenting” the bear’s presence in LaRue County. If you see the bear, give KFW a call at 1-800-858-1549.
In any case, do not approach the bear, said Dobey. They are usually shy, but can be provoked. They are not usually dangerous to household pets or livestock.
A wandering bear is probably looking for food, he said, and will “stick around if garbage is plentiful.”