DULUTH - A bear that was captured outside the Gwinnett Place Mall was released in the north Georgia mountains on Monday.
The black bear was found nosing around trash bins outside JCPenney at 10:15 p.m. Sunday.
The bear charged as a Gwinnett police officer was stepping out of his vehicle, a police report said. The officer opened fire and the bear retreated with minor injuries.
Gwinnett County Animal Control arrived to tranquilize the bear, which was taken in by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Wildlife technician Kevin Von Seggern kept the sedated, 85-pound bear overnight at his home in Oconee County on Sunday night.
Chuck Hans, another wildlife technician with the department, said the black bear population in Georgia is historically concentrated in the north, but it has been expanding into the central and southern areas of the state for the last decade.
"They're going into counties where traditionally you haven't had bear sightings in the past," he said.
Like the one captured Sunday, most of the wandering bears are young males who are seeking their own territory, Hans said.
Hans speculated that the bear was looking for food.
"That's all they do: search for food, 365 days a year," he said.
Hans recommended that people stop filling their bird feeders once spring starts, because bears will seek out the nuts and berries, which make up a majority of their diet.
Wildlife biologist Don McGowan said there have already been about three bear sightings in Gwinnett County this spring. Given the expansion of both the bear and human populations in the area, he expects sightings to increase as time goes on.
McGowan estimated there are about 3,000 black bears in north Georgia.