Bear sightings in the valley are not uncommon this time of year. In fact, bear hunting season has been open since August and many people have reported seeing bears on hikes, along roads, or munching on old orchard trees.
However, a recent uptick in sightings of what appears to be a new species or sub-type of bear has emerged in the valley since the pandemic hit. Two new resident bears in Twisp have been reported. First, a small brown bear has been reported between Twisp Park and Halterman’s Hole along the riverbank next to a tree, visible to river floaters. Another, white in color, seems to have taken residence along Second Avenue atop the concrete masonry block wall adjacent to the sidewalk, up from the new licensing office.
The typical black bear in the valley can range from cinnamon blond to black, with all shades of brown in between. These new bears exhibit all colors of the rainbow. As recently reported across the state, grizzlies aren’t really welcome yet and these new bears do not exhibit the shoulder hump nor concave facial profile that distinguishes grizzlies. Furthermore, the new bears are much smaller than most black bear cubs and could be considered miniatures. It is unknown if they are cubs, full-grown, or male or female. They are quite cute, though some have reported they think their staring eyes are a little creepy — as it appears they don’t have eyelids.
These bears are reportedly quite plump and friendly. It appears, once they establish their territory, they stay put. There have been no indications of aggressive run-ins with domestic animals, humans, or other wildlife. They seem quite docile. While most bears in town tend become a nuisance, breaking fences and tree branches, eating dog food or turning over trash cans, the Second Avenue bear has been welcomed wholeheartedly by the neighbors as she tends to offer cheer. Currently, it has been seen with dried flowers in her paws!
Curiously, during the pandemic, similar bears have been spotted in larger cities across the nation, often in windows or atop fence posts. One explanation holds that there are so many people out hiking as a way to be socially distanced and active, that the bears are making their way into towns in an effort to escape the crowds in the woods. Additionally, the reduced traffic flows and the decline of daily urban life has led to more wildlife re-occupying population centers. Still, another plausible explanation is that these bears have been adopted and set free by animal rights advocates who have bought them from financially strapped zoos, which are unable to feed and tend animals due to the sharp decline in revenues due to the pandemic. Cities across the country have begun scavenger hunt games for kids and adults to count bears in windows.
The exact sub-species of these bears seems to be debated, though biologists believe them to be in the Theodore (teddy) subgroup. Some experts think Plush or Care species may have hybridized, and a whole new species affectionately called “Stuffies” is the most accurate terminology, though the common name is COVID bear. DNA is currently being collected from around the nation. While size and color vary, their distinguishing characteristic is their ability to spread joy and love during long days of isolation and frustration from social distancing and mask-wearing. If you encounter a COVID bear, please do not attempt to feed or relocate it. If a bear has fallen over, please help it to sit upright again so others can enjoy it. COVID bears need to be visible to passersby as they subsist on smiles and laughter, they pose no danger to humans or others. Please respect wildlife by keeping it safe and if you have a bear that needs a new home, consider making it a COVID bear.