Bear wanders into school playground in Bakersfield

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 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 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. It eventually climbed over the fence and onto the playground, but by then the students had been evacuated. Gabbitas estimated the bear spent about a minute on the playground, then scaled a back fence and continued running down the street.

Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez said, Animal Control authorities found the bear and trapped it 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.”

Rodriguez said the California Department of Fish and Game helped transport the bear to the Tejon Ranch area. .

Janice Mackey, a Fish and Game Department spokeswoman, said it is not 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.

Animal Control subdued the bear and “transported it to a more suitable habitat,” she said. “The bear will probably never come back again.”

Rodriguez and other officials expressed surprise that a bear could have ventured that far into northeastern Bakersfield.

“He could have hopped on a train that comes out of the hills,” Rodriguez said. “Where he was at, he would have had to cross several busy streets.... I just have hard time believing this bear strolled through a busy street.”