"It darted in front of me. I was like, 'Wow, that’s a bear,'” said Kenneth Hess.
Hess pulled out his phone and began to snap pictures as he drove down a desolate Edwards County road. It took the San Antonian a while to figure out what he was looking at.
It was a full-grown Black bear.
"My adrenaline was pumping,” said Hess. “My first thought was to get out and get closer and take a picture, but I knew better. I stayed in the car."
The bear eventually jumped a fence and ran off.
Encounters like this one are increasing as bears cross the border from drought stricken Mexico.
"The population in Mexico, as far as we know, has been growing for a long time," said Jonah Evans, a wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Black bears are no stranger to Texas, but were wiped out a century ago by hunters and trappers.
Now, South Texas and Hill Country sightings have been slowly increasing. The Big Bend region has been home to the bears for nearly 30 years now.
Bear activity reported so far this year includes:
- Maverick County - Jan. 26 - Sighting
- Starr County - July 30 - Relocated
- Kimble County - Aug. 6 - Sighting
- Menard County - Aug. 8 - Sighting
- Schleicher County - Aug. 8 - Sighting
- Sutton County Aug. 12 - Sighting
- Webb County - Aug. 27 - Killed on road by vehicle
- Uvalde County Aug. 31 - Sighting
- Kinney County Sept. 25 - Sighting
- Maverick County - Oct. 14 - Relocated
- Val Verde County - Nov. 3 - Sighting
- Edwards County - Nov. 5 - Sighting
The rare movement south and east of the Rio Grande has raised the chances of interaction with humans.
"Black bear attacks on people are extremely rare, but they do happen," said Evans.
Evans noted that more people are killed from lightning each year than from bear attacks.
However, learning to cohabitate with Black bears will be a future challenge for residents in south Texas, the Hill Country, and the Edwards Plateau.
“Bears learn bad behaviors by getting food from people,” said Evans. “As soon as bears start getting into trashcans and equating people with food, they can become more and more bold and less afraid of people. That’s when they become dangerous.”
So should San Antonians expect sightings in coming years?
"I do think it is likely and very possible that bears will begin to re-establish themselves in the state over a much larger area than they have for the last 20 years,” said Evans.
As for Hess, his encounter was nothing he thought he would ever see.
“Not in a million years and I know I’ll probably never see one again,” said Hess.
If you spot a Black bear, you are encouraged to contact Texas Parks and Wildlife. Shooting Black bears is illegal, as they are protected by state law.