JONES COUNTY, Miss. (WDAM) - A Jones County bus driver came across a pleasant surprise before starting her morning bus route.
Janice Sheppard was in her bus, parked on the side of Ovett Moselle Road, before she went to pick up her first student of the day Wednesday when she noticed the black bear cross the road.
“My first thought was, ‘Get your phone! Get your phone! Get your phone, because nobody will ever believe you saw a black bear,’” said Sheppard.
Sheppard said she wasn’t scared to see the bear, but more excited since this is the first time this has ever happened to her.
“You would never imagine something like this will ever happen to you,” Sheppard said. “It felt like it was meant to be.”
Before her own encounter, Sheppard had only heard of black bear sightings around the area from members of the community or from previous reports of others sharing their stories.
According to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Mississippi is home to two subspecies of black bears: The American black bear and the Louisiana black bear.
The American black bear is found in the northern one-third of the state while the Louisiana black bear is found in the southern two-thirds of the state. Both subspecies are classified as endangered under Mississippi law.
In June of 2002, the MDWFP Black Bear Program began at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Its focus was to oversee research on Mississippi black bears as a way to learn more about the endangered species and prevent conflicts between bears and people.
“In the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been an uptick in sightings around the state, and recently, we have had more reports come from Jones County,” said Richard Rummel, of MDWFP’s Black Bear Program.
Rummel spoke about the occurrence of black bear sightings being a result of the natural life cycle of a male cub.
“When a black bear cub, more often a male cub, when they get older around 2 years old, they leave their mothers and just roam. They’ll just leave on their own,” said Rummel. “The females tend to stay longer under their mothers, but the males will leave when they are about 2 years old.”
Since the start of the Black Bear Program, MDWFP says the population has more than tripled after recent appearances of female black bears in Mississippi, leading to more cub births in the past several years, along with spreading bears from populations in neighboring states.
For more information and to report a black bear sighting to the MDWFP, click here.