Wildlife officials have captured a black bear in the Santa Monica Mountains.

While there have been bear sightings in the area before, the April 23 capture was the first time officials captured and collared a bear.

Named BB-12, the 210 pound black bear is estimated to be about 3-4 years old. He was given a full workup including an exam, body measurements, taking biological samples, attaching an hear tag and fitting a GPS collar.

According to the National Park Service a young black bear was spotted lumbering along Reino Road in Newbury Park last year. Since then, images of a bear have been seen on wildlife trail cameras in half of the Santa Monica Mountains – from Malibu Creek State Park to the range’s western border in Point Mugu State Park. Biologists say BB-12 may be the same bear.

“He appears to be the only bear here in the Santa Monica Mountains, and he’s likely been here for almost two years based on our remote camera data,” said Jeff Sikich, the lead field biologist of the park’s two-decade mountain lion study. “This seems to be our first resident bear in the 20 years we have conducted mountain lion research in the area. It will be interesting to see how he shares the landscape with our other resident large carnivores.”

BB-12 was found in the western Santa Monica Mountains south of the 101 Freeway.

The nearest population of black bears is in the Santa Susana Mountains, north of the 118 Freeway near Santa Claria. Bear sightings further south are rare but have occurred over the years. However, officials said there’s no evidence of a breeding population outside the Santa Susana group.

“As this bear gets older and is looking to mate, it might attempt to move back north and cross the freeway again,” Sikich said. “There is no evidence of an existing population here in the Santa Monica Mountains, and therefore likely no females. With the radio-collar, we can track its movements and hopefully know where it may attempt to cross the freeway. This can help us better understand habitat connectivity for wildlife in the area.”

While the news of a bear follows the death of beloved local mountain lion P-22, officials said the two animals have no overlap. BB-12’s habitat is about 30 miles away Griffith Park and the loss of the mountain lion likely had no impact on BB-12’s crossing into the Santa Monica Mountain.

Officials said the bear likely crossed into the Simi Hills and then moved onto the Santa Susana Mountains or Los Padres National Forest.

Ana Beatriz Cholo with the National Park Service said bears and mountain lions are not replacing each other, or displacing each other, in terms of being present on the landscape.

“They overlap all over the place, basically all over the west,” she said. “So something happening to mountain lions would not open up an area for bears somehow. Bears don’t displace mountain lions overall. They can, and do, displace mountain lions from kills, but they broadly overlap all the time. We know that bears will sometimes steal mountain lion kills (deer for example). We don’t know yet what will happen between this bear and mountain lions in the area, but we hope to find out.”

Bears are omnivores and can live between 15 and 25 years. They will eat whatever is available, primarily fruits, nuts, roots, and insects. They will also eat small animals, up to and including deer, if they can get them, human food (such as in cars or at campsites), pet food, unsecured trash, and consume dead animals they find.

In the early 2000’s, a bear carcass was discovered under a landslide in Malibu Creek State Park. In 2016, a bear was documented three times over three months on wildlife trail cameras in the central portion of the mountains but then never detected again.

Grizzly bears were native to the entire state but were killed off more than 100 years ago and black bears were later transported to the Southern California in the 1930s when about 30 bears from Yosemite National Park were translocated into the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. From there, their population grew and expanded, biologists say.

The capture of a single bear is not cause for concern for hikers or walkers. The Park Service said black bears rarely become aggressive when encountered, and attacks on people are uncommon.

If you encounter a bear while hiking, keep a safe distance and slowly back away. Let the bear know you are there. Make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving your arms and making noise by yelling, clapping your hands, using noisemakers, or whistling. Do not run and do not make eye contact. Let the bear leave the area on its own. If a bear makes contact, fight back.

NPS biologists say they are excited to add this bear, as a new species, to its wildlife study in the Santa Monica Mountains. They expect it will help provide new insights on how wildlife utilizes this urban, fragmented landscape.

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...