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Close encounter of the furry kind

AHOSKIE — A furry and unexpected visitor proved to be a major attraction in the Brantley’s Grove community near here.

On Tuesday, a black bear made its way up a tree in Odell and Ethel Overton’s backyard on Ahoskie-Cofield Road drawing curious people.

The bear balanced itself precariously in the tree for a few hours before it climbed down just after animal control and North Carolina Wildlife Resources officers arrived. The bear was first spotted by the Overton’s nurse Sharon Harrison around noon as she sat in her car at the residence.

Harrison said she was taking a scheduled break in her car and speaking with her husband on her cell phone when she saw the bear climb the tree.

“I actually saw him climb the tree, he almost fell—the branches were breaking, and he (placed) himself in the crook of the tree,” she said.

Harrison said she placed a call to the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office. The dispatcher told Harrison that Animal Control would be contacted.

Mr. Overton sat near his back door watching the bear along with his three grandchildren.

Overton said he has seen a bear before, but not one in this predicament.

“I never have seen one up in a tree,” he said.

He added he has never seen one around his home before.

As word spread about the bear, the Overtons and Harrison were joined by approximately 10 neighbors and the curious alike to see the bear.

Some brought cameras and camcorders to document the encounter.

Keita Taylor of Ahoskie drove to Brantley’s Grove after hearing about the bear.

“I wanted to see the bear and see how close he was,” she said. “I’ve seen one on television, at the zoo; I’ve never seen one in person.”

Dogs were heard barking close to the tree.

The dogs and the number of spectators were the reason the bear didn’t come down much earlier, according to North Carolina Wildlife Resources Officer Tim Wadsworth.

“I was out on the water when we received the call and couldn’t get there immediately, Wadsworth said. “If we had been able to keep people from gathering, the bear would have probably come down on its own a lot sooner.”

Wadsworth said while the encounter Tuesday afternoon wasn’t the norm, there were quite a few bear in the area and that having them pass through a neighborhood is possible.

He cautioned people about getting too close, but also said the bear more than likely wouldn’t want to get close to a person either.

“If you see each other, most likely, he’s going the other way,” Wadsworth noted. “They don’t like to be around people any more than people want to be around them.”

He said black bear were not ferocious animals and would likely not attack unless they have cubs with them or if they are cornered or provoked.

He also said this time of year is when bears move quite a bit.

“You’ll see them moving this time of year because they’re mating,” Wadsworth said. “Don’t leave bags of trash out. Put them in a trash can and close it. When you throw food and grease out it can attract them.”

The officer said there is no way to stop bear from walking through and that many times people wouldn’t even notice them.

If they are noticed, however, he cautioned people about getting too close.

“Just like any other wild animal, don’t get close to it,” he said. “If you see one up a tree as in this case, call someone, but don’t let a crowd gather around it. Most of all, leave them alone.”

Wadsworth said if a bear was in a tree, citizens could call their local sheriff’s office or the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission at 800-662-7137 or 919-707-0040.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Staff Writer Thadd White contributed to this story.)