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Last fall, a radio signal led Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Kevin White to a black bear wearing a bright orange GPS tracking collar.

Nothing out of the ordinary for a fish and game guy studying critters in the Great White North, right?

Not really, except that the signal White was receiving was from a tracking collar that he personally placed on a Rocky Mountain goat in 2006.

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“I’ve never heard of anything like this happening,” White told the Juneau Empire newspaper about the incident this week.

A big game collar swap?

After initially picking up a radio transmission while doing an airborne survey, White said he later followed the signal on the ground to an alpine plateau north of Juneau, where he observed a black bear wearing a collar.

And he knew there were no other Alaska biologists studying black bears in the area.

White figured there were two possibilities: Either a Canadian researcher collared a bear in the Yukon or British Columbia, and it wandered over to the coast; or the bear had scavenged the carcass of the goat and somehow managed to put on the collar and wear it.

“When I was considering different scenarios to explain the situation, it seemed inconceivable that this bear could be wearing the missing mountain goat collar,” White said. “For one thing it was a nanny collar; it was small, not much bigger than a collar for a large black-tailed deer.”

After further scrutiny of the signal data, White and his research partner, LaVern Beier, conclusively identified the collar as belonging to the goat, now deceased.

“Bears…are really curious about foreign objects in their environment,” said Beier. “He didn’t really put on the collar—it’s not like he was trying on clothing.”

Just think of it as identity theft, Alaskan wilderness style!

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