Officials stressing safety tips as black bear sightings increase in Eastern Kentucky

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - They might be fun to look at, but mess with the wrong one and it could be a different story. With nearly 600 documented black bear sightings in Eastern Kentucky last year, officials expect the encounters to increase this year. Which is why it is important to know how to behave around them.

A large black bear walking down the street, hanging out in a yard, rummaging through a garbage can...these are all becoming a common occurrence in Eastern Kentucky.

Jack Compton says he knows first hand that black bears are around his home in Pike County. "It came down through the yard here sometime back...went all the way down through the garden and left muddy tracks all around the driveway," he explains.

Which is why he keeps his garbage in a secure bin...something officials say is key to protecting yourself and bears, especially this time of year.

Wildlife biologist, Jayson Plaxico says, "When they come out in the spring time it is difficult to find natural foods, a lot of berries aren't ripe yet. So they travel looking for food and they will take advantage of an easy meal like a garbage can, scrap pile, or pet food bowl."

Some male bears are known to travel 100 miles in a week, which officials say can put them in contact with several people.

Officials say plain and simple; you remove the food, you remove the bear.

Also, they say under no circumstance should you ever feed a bear...which is illegal in Kentucky.

Plaxico says, "Once you tame that bear down, it loses its fear of people and will hang around people more. The end result is usually the bear getting killed by somebody."

Officials say never run away from a black bear...but instead calmly move away, or make your presence known by standing tall with your arms raised, yelling at the bear.

They do not anticipate black bear attacks, but officials say they can happen.

"With black bears you fight back, plain and simple. You do not play dead...that is for grizzly bears out west. If a black bear does ever attack someone it means to, so don't play dead," says Plaxico.

While black bears are not typically aggressive officials say they are still wild animals and it is best to leave them alone.

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