CLAY COUNTY, AL (WTVM) – A Clay County man has been arrested after he is accused of killing the "Opelika Bear" with a crossbow.
Set. Keith Mann with Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries confirms the bear has been killed in Clay County, Alabama.
Matthew Gage Stewart, 22, faces a misdemeanor for shooting the healthy, 300-pound animal with a crossbow inside Talladega's National Forrest. An exact date of the alleged illegal hunt is unknown.
Stewart is slated to be in a Clay County courtroom on Feb. 7.
Officials identified the bear from when he was tagged after being safely tranquilized and relocated back in June after roaming around parts of Opelika.
The bear was safely captured and moved to the Tuskegee National Forrest with hopes he would live a long, healthy life. The bear became somewhat of a celebrity and a much talked about story for the next few months.
"The 315-pound male black bear killed by Stewart made headlines in June 2016 when it was captured in Opelika, AL tagged by Auburn University researchers and released on the Tuskegee National Forest in Macon County," wrote Capt. Johnny Johnson with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "Throughout the summer the bear roamed north and was seen several times near Alexander City."
The black bear is a protected species in Alabama.
"As sightings continue to increase, some have questions about the protected status of black bear," Johnson said. "While classified as a game animal in Alabama, there is no established black bear hunting season in the state. Black bears are also protected by state law due to low population numbers."
If you are lucky enough to encounter/observe a black bear, WFF offers these suggestions:
- Do not be frightened
- Do not approach the animal
- Do not run from the bear; back away slowly
- Stand tall and upright and make loud noises
- Avoid direct eye contact with the bear
- Make sure the bear has an unobstructed direction to escape
- Never purposely feed a bear
If you spot a black bear, you can report it here.