One of South Carolina’s rarely seen coastal bears killed on highway near Charleston

Bears are rare in the Charleston area of South Carolina, but proof of their presence was found over the weekend when a dead bear turned up in the fishing village of Awendaw.

The carcass was spotted along Highway 17 around 2 p.m. Sunday, not far from the town’s post office, officials said. The town of about 1,300 people is 30 miles northeast of uptown Charleston.

It was discovered by a passerby who was quickly joined by a state wildlife officer, according to a statement from the Awendaw-McClellanville Consolidated Fire District.

“The black bear was a male, thought to be between 3 and 4 years old,” the department wrote. “This was a beautiful creature, rarely seen in the area.”

South Carolina is home to about 1,000 black bears, and it’s believed most of them — about 700 — live in the western side of the state, near the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, officials said.

“The rest, like this one, are located in the low country, as far south as Beaufort,” the fire district reported.

Investigators believe the bear “was struck by a vehicle Saturday night or early Sunday.” The department did not say if any motorist reported a bear collision over the weekend, but the bear was big enough to cause damage.

Black bears grow to an average of 350 pounds in South Carolina, but males as big as 600 pounds have been found, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources reports. Their “average life expectancy” in the wild is about 18 years.

Nearby North Carolina has a much larger bear population, with more than 11,000 bears in the late 2000s, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission reports.

News of the bear carcass comes at a time when aggressive bear encounters are on the rise in the mountains of neighboring North Carolina and Tennessee.

A sleeping 16-year-old girl was attacked and seriously hurt by a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on June 18, McClatchy News reported. Multiple camp grounds have been closed on parts of the Appalachian Trail in N.C. and Tennessee, and the Blue Ridge Parkway temporarily banned tents and soft-sided campers in some areas due to aggressive bears.

Experts say the bears are hungry, looking for food, and may associate camping smells with a potential meal.