Pumpkin lives to see another day, but officials urge public to learn to live among bears

Local News

After an outcry to save Pumpkin the bear from euthanasia, authorities are asking the public to educate themselves on living with the animals.

A photo of a black bear in a grassy, wooded area of Massachusetts.
Pumpkin, a black bear spotted in and near Hanson, Massachusetts, killed two goats. Now police say they have to euthanize the bear. Courtesy of the Hanson Police Department

A bear who has a penchant for eating pumpkins has caused quite the stir in a South Shore town after its police department said they may have to euthanize the animal after it killed livestock.

Aptly named Pumpkin by the community, it seems the bear has lived to see another day in and around Hanson — but officials are using the moment as an opportunity to educate the public on how to live among black bears amid an increase in sightings.

MassWildlife is holding a virtual presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 15 to teach residents “more about black bear biology, black bear population management, and how communities like Hanson can effectively co-exist with bears.”

Hanson Police Chief Michael Miksch said the department had never considered euthanizing the bear until it killed goats in a resident’s secured barn. Pumpkin even got around electric fencing to get to the livestock.

“The big concern I have with this bear is it entered a structure that had been secured, and it now has a taste for livestock,” Miksch said in an email. “This was also the second time it attacked livestock at this particular home.”

He said the reason the bear also became a problem was because people were feeding it both intentionally and by accident — for example, leaving garbage out for Pumpkin to feast on. 

The Hanson police have at no point spent time actively looking for the bear to euthanize it, but said if they can safely do so, or if it causes more serious problems, they would have to put it down. 

“This isn’t like in the movie ‘Jaws’ where they hunt any shark they can find,” Miksch said.

After the police department posted to its Facebook that the bear may need to be euthanized, criticisms from residents poured in. 

“Hanson Police Department, do better!” said one commenter on Facebook. “Euthanizing a bear because he’s being a bear! You said so yourself, we have to learn to live with the bears.”

Even on posts that had nothing to do with Pumpkin — for example, one in which police reminded people to adjust their clocks for the end of Daylight Saving Time on Sunday — people chimed in with more angry comments about the possible euthanization. 

And the local backlash didn’t stop there. Rachel Baird, who said she’s a resident of Hanson, created a petition to “prevent the unnecessary killing of Pumpkin the bear by Hanson Police.”

“This is not just about one bear; this is about how we treat wildlife in general,” she wrote in the petition posted to Change.org. “Animals acting naturally within their shrinking habitats should not be met with extermination as a solution.”

The petition had nearly 630 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. It also calls on officials to find alternative solutions to euthanasia, like “relocation or creating better barriers between wild animals and livestock/pets.”

But in an email from MassWildlife, they said they only relocate animals when the location becomes a threat to the animal — for example, if a wild animal ended up in an urban area around traffic.

“Relocation is not an option for bears causing property damage, as it would transfer this problem behavior to another community,” MassWildlife said. “Bears that have learned to raid chicken coops or attack livestock will not stop that behavior if moved elsewhere.”

But to the petition’s point about how people with farms or food sources live among bears, Miksch recommended that residents visit MassWildlife’s website, which includes helpful tips and videos. Those tips include removing bird feeders, securing trash, and feeding pets indoors.

“People in this part of the state have to learn how to modify their behavior to not place the bears in danger,” Miksch said.

Pumpkin isn’t the only bear wandering the South Shore, Miksch said. At least one other bear has been reported in and around Hanson — much smaller than Pumpkin, Miksch said. He also noted that black bears are rarely aggressive toward humans.

In an email from MassWildlife, they said there have been only five instances in the last 10 years in which “a black bear has made physical contact with a person in Massachusetts.” The people in those cases suffered from minor injuries.

Other towns like Whitman have also reported bear sightings. It’s possible the bear seen in some towns close to Hanson is Pumpkin, who police believe traverses down Route 14 to Pembroke.

According to MassWildlife, the number of black bears has increased in the state since the 1970s, mainly established in the western part of the commonwealth. But these bears are expanding farther east, with about 4,500 black bears statewide.