A bear in Arlington is the last local wildlife sighting. Should we be worried? One expert views a growing number of animals in the D.C. region as a positive sign for the environment.
From NPR station

WAMU 88.5

A bear in Arlington is the last local wildlife sighting. Should we be worried?

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington believes the bear to be a healthy male yearling in search of a new home. Jitze Couperus/Flickr hide caption

toggle caption
Jitze Couperus/Flickr

Coyotes, turkeys, and bears, oh my!

Residents of the D.C. region have had a few too many wildlife encounters in recent weeks, the latest of which was a black bear sighted in Arlington on Sunday.

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington believed the mammal to be a healthy male yearling in search of a new home. Chelsea Jones, the senior communications specialist of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, says this is the second bear sighting in the area during her six years at the organization. (Residents also spotted a bear near Bishop O'Connell High School in May 2020.)

"He's just passing through," she says of the most recent bear. "And we are going to let him do that and go do his bear thing." The Animal Welfare League of Arlington suspects he's already left the county, heading north.

It wasn't the weekend's only encounter with wildlife, however. Also on Sunday, in neighboring Fairfax County, a suspected rabid coyote bit multiple people, including a police officer. The officer ended up shooting the animal during the attack.

Article continues below

In recent weeks, locals have reported multiple close encounters with snakes. And for several months this spring, a large wild turkey confronted people on D.C.'s Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, even sending one person to urgent care. Lastly, who could forget the fox family who wreaked havoc on Capitol Hill in early April, requiring some lawmakers and journalists to get costly rabies treatment.

So what's going on?

Jones says wildlife sightings peaked during the pandemic partially because people spent more time at home, giving them the chance to spot the wild animals. She says these sightings will continue to happen and that they're not usually cause for concern. In fact, she says, people should learn to coexist with the animals — usually, we're the ones encroaching on their space.

A black bear sighting in suburbia is unusual, however, but Travis Gallo of George Mason University's environmental science and policy department says he expects these types of wildlife encounters to become increasingly common.

"As these green spaces that we have in the D.C. area become better and better quality for both humans and animals, we're going to have more animals living in those green spaces," says Gallo, an assistant professor of urban wildlife ecology and conservation.

He considers D.C. to be a leader in cultivating green spaces and fostering biodiversity so, naturally, area wildlife will be inclined to pay a visit. He says wild turkeys in particular are making a comeback, not only in green spaces in Anacostia but also in Fort Dupont, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and Rock Creek Park. The emergence of a bobcat in the Palisades neighborhood is yet another example of what happens when a green space is restored and better managed. Ultimately, Gallo views increasing wildlife sightings as a positive thing.

"I actually think that an urban green space has really good habitat if you find reptiles in it," says Gallo. "If you can find turtles and snakes in an urban green space, that means you're probably doing something right."

D.C. residents have been reporting animal sightings in the city for years. Biologist John Hadidian told DCist/WAMU in 2017 that one reason the district is such a friendly place for critters is that they have their own "highways" into the city.

"There are corridors that lead into the city, such as the C&O Canal, which really connects us all the way to Ohio and provides a travel way for a lot of species that will come into the city," he said, adding that he expects these wildlife encounters to become less unusual.

As sightings increase, Gallo recommends people be more aware of their surroundings. While it's tempting, he advises staying away from animals and against taking videos. Instead, opt for a quick photo from a distance.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

Questions or comments about the story?

WAMU 88.5 values your feedback.

From NPR station

WAMU 88.5