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Residents in the remote areas of far east Mesa were entertained when a young black bear ventured into their neighborhood Tuesday evening, but officials said getting too close to one of the state's signature wild animals is no laughing matter.
The bear ventured most likely from the high country northeast of Mesa after a winter of hibernation and looking for an evening meal, said Gray Stafford, director of Conservation at the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium, who also has a home in nearby Fountain Hills.
It was spotted in a residential area near Sousa Elementary School in the area of University Drive and 112th Street just before 10 p.m.
"It's a young bear," said Arizona Game and Fish Officer Brian Marshall. "Young bears are often expanding, looking for new territory, and sometimes get a little off course, or a little hungry and come looking for food or other resources and end up where they weren't meant to go."
Mesa police Lt. Brian Soller, one of the first officers to arrive where the bear was spotted, said there were a lot of people in the neighborhood and additional officers were called to keep the curious onlookers a safe distance from the bear.
"We got lucky," Soller said, adding that it was fortunate the bear arrived late in the evening when no children were out playing.
The bear ran into a grassy fenced area north of the school where police were able to contain it, Soller said.
He said the public needs to keep in mind that bears are wild animals, and when you see them, "don't chase them or get close to them."
Police were able to use sirens and spotlights to keep the bear contained until Game and Fish officials arrived and tranquilized the animal.
It was loaded into a cage and Wednesday morning was taken to an area where the bear and the public would be safe, Marshall said.
Soller said this is the third bear call he has been on, and the others happened during a drought season when food is scarce and the animals are forced to forage closer to civilization.
Bob Webb has a koi pond in his backyard and thought the bear might be trying to get to the fish.
"It's pretty strange. I haven't seen anything like this before," Webb said.
Deedra Gardner and her family watched the events unfold from their upstairs balcony through binoculars. Her son, Conner, thought it was "really cool and exciting to watch it run around."
Stafford said Arizona has a healthy black bear population and was not surprised to hear of a bear moving into the Valley this time of year.
"They are just waking up from their winter hibernation and looking for food. They're hungry," he said.
He said bears spend most of their waking hours foraging for foods such grasses and seeds early to flowers and berries as the summer wears on.
He said people should try to help limit the suburban food supply by securing their trash.
"Especially if you live in outlying areas or in the high country," where bears are most prevalent. He said bears are always looking for an easy meal.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
UPDATEYoung bear wanders into far east Mesa neighborhoodMore>>