During a fifth grade field trip twelve years ago, I overheard a conversation between some boys eager to share the coolest stories they knew with each other. The topic that caught my attention: somebody knew somebody who was sure they had seen a bear in their backyard. My friend and I were skeptical, however, I was secretly jealous of this person who I didn't even know and also fascinated by the idea of bears in Missouri.
At that age, I didn't exactly think I lived in the coolest state. I was more impressed with places like Colorado where, the previous summer, I had stood just feet from an elk calf. I wished I could see something that cool at home. I no longer think Missouri is a boring place to live and, much to my satisfaction elk have been brought back into the state. Still, eleven-year-old me thinks, "Wouldn't it be great to see a bear?"
I never expected to actually get to see a Missouri black bear, but thanks to the Missouri Black Bear Project and the opportunity to receive a college education locally at Drury University's Cabool campus, I not only got to see a bear, I got to touch a bear! The Missouri Black Bear Project is an effort by the Missouri Department of Conservation, Mississippi State University, and University of Missouri to determine the size of the bear population and its distribution across southern Missouri by use of hair snares, live trapping, and GPS equipped collars.
As a requirement for a biology degree, I needed a research project. I wanted to research anything that might help me get closer to a career with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Field research is a great way for students to learn the type of career they would really enjoy and to become more interesting to employers. Conservation Agent and Drury Adjunct Faculty, Brad Hadley, gave me the opportunity to research Missouri black bears, the Missouri Black Bear Project, and study the results of that project.
In May, the second trapping session of this project began, and it was time for me to take part in it. I was eager to start my research and, after visiting two bait sites, got a call from Hadley to help set a trap for a bear that had visited one of them. The next day I got another call from Hadley saying, "Congratulations, you trapped a bear!" It was a big red boar, weighing in at an impressive 385 lbs. The thrill I felt then could not compare with how excited I was the next day when I got to assist with the work-up of the second bear trapped on that site. While measurements were taken and the GPS collar fitted, I was much closer to the bear than I had been to that elk calf years ago, and my wish for seeing something as cool as an elk in Missouri came true. Nothing is cooler than seeing an animal that was thought to be extirpated from our state make a comeback.
Had I not been able to attend a college locally, I would not have received this amazing opportunity. Many people in the area depend on local college campuses to provide them with the opportunity to pursue higher education. Drury University's College of Graduate and Continuing Studies branch campuses offer adults the chance to receive a college degree based not only on what they can learn sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture, but also by exceptional hands-on experiences, both in the classroom and in the field. Not everything can be learned from a book. Seeing how the body works through dissection, growing cultures to examine on your own rather than looking at them in a picture, or testing the water in area streams are all valuable lessons provided by the Cabool campus.
In the past I have been jealous of people who tell me they have seen bears but, thanks to Drury University's Cabool campus, I don't have to be jealous anymore. I get to touch bears.