Bear in tree

An American Black Bear is pictured climbing a tree in the backyard of a Norman home May 19. The Animal Welfare Oversight Committee discussed Monday how wildlife entities are now better prepared for future bear encounters after the black bear was shot in Norman last month.

The Animal Welfare Oversight Committee on Monday discussed updates on the recent exotic animal seizure and heard how wildlife entities are now better prepared for future bear encounters after shooting a black bear in Norman last month.

Over 350 animals were seized from a property on East Rock Creek Road April 30 after a months-long investigation by Norman Animal Welfare. On May 19, just after 9:30 p.m., Norman police responded to a report of a bear in a tree near Berry Road and Lindsey Street.

The bear was shot after multiple attempts to tranquilize it were unsuccessful.

Animal Welfare Officer Supervisor Trey Amrein said Monday he worked with the residents at the Rock Creek Road property concerning possession of exotic animals over nearly six months.

There were charges filed in municipal court.

On April 29, he drove by the property and saw two horses “as skinny as you could imagine” that prompted the search warrant.

NPD seized 357 animals over a three-day process in serving the warrant, Amrein said. Though he knew about exotic animals on the property, he was unable to do anything about it until he saw the horses in poor condition, giving the agency probable cause.

“I didn’t have a legal right to be on that property — I had written tickets for possession of exotic animals, so there’s no way they are going to allow me on the property, we didn’t have a right to take them at that time,” Amrein said.

Jeanie Snider, assistant city attorney for the City of Norman, said Norman Animal Welfare acted heroically in its efforts over those three days.

“It was like nothing we have ever seen — our detective has never done an animal cruelty case this large, which is why it’s taking a while to get criminal charges filed,” Snider said. “It was an unbelievable operation for something that had never been done, with everything from two tarantulas, 12 camels, birds and kangaroos.”

Snider said the animals were relinquished to the city after seven days, and the criminal investigation is ongoing with the District Attorney’s Office, which is filing felony animal cruelty charges.

On June 8, Council approved appropriations for expenses from the animal shelter and overtime to veterinarians.

“We have a payment plan where the two defendants will pay the city back for all of those costs,” Snider said.

Learning from bear shooting

After hearing the call go out on the radio, Amrein advised responding officers not to chase the bear but to contain it until wildlife officials arrived with a trailer for hauling the bear.

“I was not on scene until the bear was already in a tree, and at that point I would say he was probably 15 feet up in the tree,” Amrein said.

After spending an hour on the phone with a bear biologist in southeast Oklahoma discussing how much tranquilizer to administer, Amrein said he shot multiple darts at the bear. But the darts did not stick because they were meant for domestic animals, not large wildlife.

With tarps set up in an attempt to minimize injury, the bear was shot once more with the only dart available that was large enough to penetrate and stick, and the bear fell from the tree.

After a minute, the bear started to get up, and officials on the scene were out of tranquilizer.

Amrein said the residents of the property with the bear in the back yard had their windows open, while neighbors had people in their yards talking and moving, and would not go inside after being directed to.

“The bear was agitated at this point, went to the corner of the yard, turned and came at two ODWC employees, and that’s when he was shot [by wildlife officials],” Amrein said. “It’s unfortunate, and we hate it.”

To better prepare for similar situations in the future, Norman Animal Welfare is putting together kits that have tarps, ropes and medication in case ODWC isn’t readily available.

Animal Welfare is also talking with Jeff Ford, senior bear biologist for ODWC, about coming to Norman, Moore and Noble in July for bear training.

“ODW is putting five bear trailers that function as traps, along with necessary chemicals and supplies that will be placed around central Oklahoma with one in Lexington,” Amrein said.

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.

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