SOLVANG, Calif. - The bear that caused residents to shelter in their homes Saturday night in Downtown Solvang has been captured and released safely into the wild, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Deputies from the Sheriff's Department located the bear around 10 p.m. on the 1600 block of Mission Drive near a local wine tasting business.
Lt. Jamie Dostal with Fish & Wildlife said the bear was lying down on the ground outside the business and panting heavily, leading them to believe he may have just been running or overheating and decided to rest there.
Shortly after, a Wildlife Officer and biologist responded to the area and decided it was best to chemically immobilize the bear with tranquilizers. However, due to the bear's large size, Fish & Wildlife said it took time and multiple tranquilizer darts before the drugs took effect and the bear went down.
Lt. Dostal said officers were finally able to approach the bear around 2 or 3 a.m.
The black bear, which they estimated to weigh between 350 and 400 pounds, was so heavy that a crane with straps had to be used to lift his unconscious body up and onto a pickup truck bed.
Lt. Dostal said Fish & Wildlife were surprised to see such a large bear wandering into town as normally the bears that come into civilized areas are younger and less experienced.
The bear was then driven to a safe area about 10 miles northeast of the town where he was released.
However, Officers remained with the bear through the night until 9 a.m. on Sunday, when he had fully emerged from his drugged state and was able to safely return to his normal life. Fish & Wildlife said they stay with the animals to ensure other predators do not take advantage of them while they are sedated.
Lt. Dostal said that while the bear was unconscious, he was examined and determined to be a male adult, but not an elderly bear, who was in good health which was a pleasant surprise. Lt. Dostal explained that, in the past, bears that have come near residences and businesses showed injuries from encounters with people including being hit by cars.
The bear's good health may partly be thanks to the county and state's stay at home orders which are keeping many people off of sidewalks and out of cars.
Lt. Dostal said they have not received any reports of the bear coming into contact with pedestrians or business workers during his adventure into the town. Had the shelter at home order not been instated, normal Solvang crowds may have played a part in the bear's wellbeing or its choice to walk down city streets at all as bears typically like to keep to themselves.
An ear tag was also placed on the bear so that, should he return to town, Fish & Wildlife can recognize him as the same bear.
Lt. Dostal said it is possible the bear wandered into town in search of water after the streak of hot days, or possibly because he saw that there were fewer people around and wanted to explore.