KENT — The Hoffmans, who live on a narrow rural road at the north end of this town, had four donkeys for more than a decade. Then came the bear.
On its first visit last month, the young bear inspected their deck. On its second, it broke into their barn, climbed into the donkeys’ enclosure and cornered the animals before being frightened away.
And for its third visit, on May 21, the bear killed and ate a 15-year-old donkey named Radar.
Just around dawn that Sunday, the bear slipped through a wooden-post fence and into the miniature-donkeys’ paddock. It attacked the donkeys, scratching and scarring two of them, but doing worse to Radar.
Megg Hoffman found “one of our buddies” around 8 a.m.
Black bear sightings in Connecticut
source: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection: “Reliable sighting and vehicle-kill reports of black bears.”
”I come down to feed them in the morning,” she said. “And there was the body.”
The 277-pound donkey lay lifeless, she said. His torso was full of puncture wounds and half of his hindquarters were eaten. A black bears’ footprints were left in the mud, near pools of blood.
A Department of Energy and Environmental Protection official later told the Hoffmans that Radar’s killer was likely a young bear, weighing fewer than 300 pounds.
Donkeys like Radar, named for the character in M.A.S.H.,generally live for 25 to 30 years. The Hoffmans would like the bear that killed Radar relocated or euthanized.
”He’s still around and we’ve had sightings in the neighborhood,” Ted Hoffman said. ”(The bear) had to have been aggressive to come in here. You don’t get here just passing through. And the threat is still there. When do you get back to normal?
”You get back to normal when the threat is gone.”
Neighbors, who have horses and llamas, now lock livestock up at night, Ted said. An 8-year-old neighbor girl is afraid to go outside.
DEEP officials set a trap for the bear — a large pipe filled with doughnuts. But after a week, the bear hadn’t fallen for it, though the doughnuts were missing. Likely raccoons, a DEEP official told the Hoffmans.
The Hoffmans would have liked DEEP to hunt the bear, or at least move it away if it was apprehended.
DEEP doesn’t often move bears, said spokesman Dennis Schain: If the agency catches a black bear it tags the animal and “hazes” it “putting the fear of humans back in the bear,” and releases it nearby, he said.
More bears have been seen in Kent than ever before, said First Selectman Bruce Adams.
Some three years ago, they started showing up, he added. DEEP says town residents reported 60 sightings over the past year. Megg has seen six — including the bear that took Radar — this spring. Ted said he has seen more than one.
The Hoffmans have had a home in Kent for more than two decades, and bear sightings “at this rate” are new, they said.
DEEP Commissioner Robert J. Klee recommended bear hunting be allowed in Connecticut in March testimony for a bill that would have legalized it, but failed.
”We estimate that Connecticut’s black bear population is increasing at a rate of 10 percent per year … it is reasonable to project that the population will continue to increase, with the overall population reaching 3,000 or higher,” Klee wrote. ”With the growing bear population, reports of nuisance bears and bold and aggressive bear behavior are increasing.”
Adams said bears have wandered around Kent for the past few years checking out garages and inspecting decks, but this was the first livestock attack.
“This is the first real encounter,” he said.
The Hoffmans’ donkeys are just now getting back to normal, Megg said. For a week they were skittish and frightened of any movement.
The Hoffmans put in a live wire through the fence and posted cameras in a nearby tree. And they’ll be locking their donkeys in the barn at night for the foreseeable future, although the animals used to enjoy summer nights penned in, but under the stars.
Radar is buried some 50 feet from the barn, down a hill.
”Our donkeys are so friendly, great with kids, basically like Great Danes,” Ted said. ”Tonight, they’re going back in the barn, locked down.”