Bear disrupts Bakersfield graduation, forces playground evacuation
A young black bear nearly crashed a middle school graduation Thursday morning when it wandered over a fence and onto an adjacent Bakersfield elementary school playground, scattering students and providing a spectacle for parents.
School district officials say that the 200-pound bear roamed through the parking lot of Ramon Garza Elementary School, straight past the administrative office, where the principal spotted it and immediately placed the elementary school on lockdown.
More than 75 fifth-graders having a water-gun party had to scamper from the playground as the bear approached the school fence. At the same time, more than 600 parents watched the animal through a chain-link fence from the outdoor graduation ceremony taking place at the Sierra Middle School.
“The bear got on scene, there was graduation going on and he was not an invited guest,” said Kim Rodriguez with Kern County Animal Control. “He felt like he was unwelcome, so he left.”
Officials said no one was injured and it took only about 30 minutes to secure the bear at animal control facilities.
Steve Gabbitas, a spokesman with the Bakersfield City School District, said the bear arrived about 9:20 a.m. The bear eventually climbed over the fence and onto the playground, but by then the students had been evacuated. Gabbitas estimated that the bear spent about a minute on the playground and then scaled a back fence and continued running down the street.
Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez said, animal control authorities found the bear and trapped him in a confined area of a “very large apartment complex.”
“They didn’t want to flip out the bear,” she said. “They didn't want to do anything traumatic to the bear. The bear was unhappy to be in the situation, so they decided to tase him so they could get him safely to the vehicle.”
Rodriguez said he California Department of Fish and Game helped transport the bear to the El Tejon area and the nearby forest.
Janice Mackey, a information officer for state fish and game, said it was very rare to see a bear get this far inland, but not so unusual to see bears exhibiting "dispersal behavior" at this time of year.
“They kind of separate from their mother and find their own territory,” Mackey said.
Mackey added that the bear was not tagged, as was the case with another black bear tranquilized in Glendale in April. That bear, who has a Twitter alias “Glen Bearian,” has not been spotted since he was removed. A different bear was discovered in a Monrovia family's backyard infinity pool Monday, and a mountain lion was recently shot in Santa Monica.
Glen Bearian took notice of the recent animal news, tweeting May 22: “Sad day for mountain lions... Pouring some honey out for my homies.”
He has yet to comment on the status of the Bakersfield bear.
-- Matt Stevens
Photo: Animal control officers in Bakersfield trapped a bear after it wandered onto an elementary school playground on Thursday. Credit: Kern County Animal Control