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Black Bears in Chicago? 'Unlikely But Not Impossible,' Zoo Official Says

 A black bear (not this one) was spotted in far northwestern Illinois over the Memorial Day weekend.
A black bear (not this one) was spotted in far northwestern Illinois over the Memorial Day weekend.
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Flickr/Tania Simpson

CHICAGO — A confirmed black bear sighting took place in Illinois over the weekend, but don't expect the large predatory mammals to make their way to Chicago anytime soon.

"Personally I think we'll see a wolf in Chicago before a bear. And lots more cougars before either," said Seth Magle, director of the Lincoln Park Zoo's Urban Wildlife Institute.

"But one day we probably will see a bear within the Chicago metropolitan area, so we need to prepare for that, whether it’s five years from now or 50," he added.

A black bear was spotted Saturday near Galena in the far northwestern part of the state. Digital photographs confirmed the sighting, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police.

Black bears disappeared in Illinois starting in the 1850s, but there have been at least three spotted in the state since 2000. None of the sightings were within 100 miles of the city limits.

Magle said it is "unlikely but not impossible" a bear would wander into Chicago.

"Bears are not as good at dispersing as wolves or cougars," Magle said.

A mountain lion was shot and killed in Chicago in 2008 after possibly traveling more than 1,000 miles from the Black Hills in South Dakota.

In April, the Illinois state Senate passed a measure that would add black bears, grey wolves and mountain lions to the state's list of protected species.

Magle said the Urban Wildlife Institute employs a large camera-trapping system throughout the Chicago area, so if a bear or other large mammal passes through, he hopes to document their journey.

"These animals are going to find a way to move closer and closer to our urban systems, so we need to be ready," he said.

Black bears can weigh between 125 and 600 pounds, and they can run up to 35 miles per hour.

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