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By Bill Hoagland
You may recall that in late June and early July, 2020, Calhoun County had a unique visitor—a black bear named Bruno who already was the subject of a Facebook page with 150,000 followers by the time he got to Calhoun County. Bruno’s story is a puzzling one and while you may already know part of the story, here is the rest of it in case you missed some of it.
Bruno was an adult bear, weighing approximately 400 pounds, who was estimated to be about four years old when he started his 800 mile journey. He was first noticed in Iowa in June, 2020, at which time the Facebook page, “Keeping Bruno Safe”, was started by a local woman who was concerned for Bruno’s safety. Once the Facebook page was started, Bruno’s ongoing locations were publicized and that in turn resulted in crowds of well-wishers following him nearly everywhere he went.
The odd thing about Bruno, even in the early stages of his travels, was that he did not seem to be frightened by people or traffic.
After being initially spotted in Iowa, Bruno crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and headed south. By late June, he had traveled south paralleling the Mississippi River all the way to Calhoun County, a distance of more than 250 miles. From Calhoun County, he crossed the Mississippi into Missouri somewhere between Clarksville and Elsberry. At the time, the Mississippi was in flood stage but that did not seem to faze Bruno; there is a video of him swimming close to the Clarksville dam and he looked quite comfortable in the water, moving at a pretty good clip and proving that the river will never stop bears from coming into Calhoun from Missouri if they want to do so.
Once in Missouri, he was trailed by well-wishers all the way to Wentzville, in St. Charles County, where, on July 7, 2020, the Missouri Department of Conservation was rightly concerned about his attempting to cross Interstate 70 and Interstate 64. So with a crowd of onlookers, they tranquilized Bruno, loaded him in a trailer and moved him to an undisclosed location south of St. Louis in the Missouri Ozarks. This undisclosed location was described as “prime bear habitat” and it was assumed that being in bear country would make Bruno stay put. Before releasing him, they put identification tags in both ears.
But Bruno couldn’t care less about “prime bear habitat”. Soon he was on the move again, eventually heading further south into Arkansas; while in Arkansas over the next six or so months, Bruno gained a whole new crowd of well-wishers who kept track of his whereabouts as he slowly continued his trek south into Louisiana. Sadly, in early July, 2021, he was found on the front lawn of a homeowner in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, unable to move his back legs. He had apparently been hit by a car within the past several weeks; in addition to two broken legs, he was paralyzed in the lower back and was able to move forward only with his front legs. On July 2, a decision was made by state authorities in Louisiana to euthanize Bruno. And so ended a remarkable journey of more than 800 miles for a bear who ended up with more than 200,000 fans on Facebook. At the time of his demise, he weighed only 240 pounds, and had two broken legs and was paralyzed in the lower back—certainly a sad ending for a creature that gave us a nice diversion from the terrible things going on today in this world.
• Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.