Scat from attack matched to dead bear

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 13, 2009, at 7:11 p.m.

SULLIVAN, Maine — Scientists at the University of Maine have matched DNA that was taken from the scene of a bear attack at a local barn last fall with a bear that later was shot and killed at a property in neighboring Franklin.

The bear defecated in a Track Road barn owned by John Roscoe and Jennifer Minard on Oct. 14, when it walked into the building, climbed over a wall and killed one goat and seriously wounded another.

Other similar bear attacks were reported in Franklin and Sullivan around the same time. Two bears later were killed at separate properties in Franklin by hunters who were keeping watch for the nuisance animals.

A female bear without cubs was killed Oct. 22 at the home of Becka and Jeff Gagne on Hooper Road in the village of East Franklin, where one or more bears had killed two goats in two earlier attacks. On Oct. 24, a male bear was killed at the home of Bobbi Jo Jordan on South Bay Road on Taunton Bay, where a bear twice had tried to climb into Jordan’s horse barn. Jordan lives about a mile away from Roscoe and Minard’s property.

The DNA of the male bear that was shot at Jordan’s home matches the scat found in Roscoe and Minard’s barn, according to Irving Kornfield, a UM professor of biology and molecular forensics.

Kornfield said Monday that, based on previous tests that tried to match biological tissue with specific bears, getting such a match is extremely rare. The probability of seeing such a DNA match in Maine black bears is approximately 1 in 1 million, he said.

Part of the challenge in this case was extracting a usable DNA sample from the bear scat, Kornfield said. It likely made the tesing process take longer than it would have otherwise.

“We tried several protocols,” he said. “Much of the DNA was contaminated one way or another.”

Kornfield said UM typically gets eight to 10 cases from the Maine Warden Service each year, which tend to involve deer or moose. Sometimes the lab can match blood found on someone’s property with an illegally killed animal, he said, or can determine whether meat in someone’s freezer is all from the same animal or from multiple animals.

Kornfield said the lab does not often get tests involving bears that have attacked domestic animals. He guessed that the bears that killed goats in Franklin and Sullivan were going after easy food in order to fatten up for winter hibernation.

“I don’t think, in general, that bears go for livestock,” Kornfield said.

Roscoe and Minard paid to have the bear scat tested for DNA — something that Warden David Simmmons said the Maine Warden Service does not do, except in some cases when a crime might be involved.

Minard said Tuesday she felt some relief knowing the bear that raided their property wouldn’t be coming back, but she still has mixed feelings. She and Roscoe want to be a part of their surroundings, she said, and not feel they have to insulate themselves and their animals from it. They consider their animals to be pets more than livestock, she said.

Minard added that she hopes no one in the area tries to befriend or feed any bears, which could tempt the animals into more barn raids.

“Obviously, we don’t want our animals to be killed.” she said.

The couple is building a permanent home at their Track Road property, and after the bear attack decided to rent a nearby home for the winter. Minard said they plan to erect a higher, electrified fence around the barn so they can avoid any future bear attacks.

“Our intentions are definitely to go back,” she said.

Simmons, the warden who dealt with the bear attacks and helped chase the bear from Roscoe and Minard’s barn, said Monday that he has heard of no more bear attacks in the area since the animals were shot in October.

Simmons said that of the two dead bears, the bear that was shot at Jordan’s property had the better chance of being the bear that killed Roscoe and Minard’s goat. Bears have been known to travel large distances, he said, but they tend not to go far if they don’t have to.

“In my experience, the range of the bear is dictated by the food in the area,” he said. “When they’re getting easy pickings, they’re going to stay with easy pickings.”

Such attacks may not happen that often, the warden said, but they shouldn’t be considered abnormal for bears. He said that such attacks likely are more common where domestic animals are kept at the edge of large tracts of wooded bear habitat, rather than in more developed or populated areas.

“The smells of the farm are more enticing than the smell of the woods,” Simmons said. “To me, [the bears] were doing entirely what comes natural. Wild animals are wild animals.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/01/13/news/hancock/scat-from-attack-matched-to-dead-bear/ printed on August 28, 2014