You know it's going to be a bad day when it's barely dawn and you're already being chased by police officers, firefighters, three rifle-toting game wardens and a news helicopter, and you're stuck up a tree — in a cemetery, no less.
That's the predicament a California black bear faced Tuesday after somehow taking a very wrong turn out of a forest and ending up in a three-hour standoff with authorities in Oxnard.
The wayward but intrepid black bear was first spotted around 2:15 a.m., lurking around a fire station on Vineyard Avenue. After police officers arrived, the bear scampered through the neighborhood and climbed a eucalyptus tree next to a condo complex.
It eventually came down and fled to the Santa Clara Cemetery, where it shimmied 25 feet up a tree and camped out as the dim early morning gave way to bright sunshine, its caramel-colored fur gleaming in the light. Wardens used three tranquilizer darts to subdue the roughly 200-pound animal.
No doubt, the animal peering down and the people looking up had the same question — how did a bear usually found in Southern California forests end up in a flat beach town five miles from surfers catching waves?
Residents in some foothill communities are accustomed to running into bears. Police in Monrovia received 464 calls last year regarding bear sightings, according to Harry Morse of the state Department of Fish and Game.
But if Oxnard residents — and the panicked bear — were surprised by the confrontation, state wildlife officials were not. With stamina for long-distance travel and a lust for anything edible, bears are known to travel.
"They are 100% garbage-eating machines," said biologist Marc Kenyon, who coordinates the state's bear program. "Bears can roam in one direction up to about 100 to 150 miles."
This particular bear, Kenyon said, might have wandered out of Los Padres National Forest and followed a sparsely vegetated corridor along the path of the Santa Clara River. It ended up about half a mile from the river.
Finally tranquilized about 9:15 a.m., the bear slumped on tree branches as firefighters fashioned a harness and used a truck ladder to slowly hoist the animal onto the ground. From there, it was moved to an undisclosed location.
"We don't publicize where we take them, because the minute you do, people go and try to find the bear, take a picture," Morse said. "That would be harassing after what that bear has been through."
Within hours the bear was en route to a forested area away from condos and cemeteries. Game wardens planned to stay with the animal until it awakened, the day's nightmarish events behind it.
Fish and Game's Asst. Chief of Enforcement Paul Hamdorf said, "This is the ending that we always hope for."