Bear in NIH tree sets Twitter aflutter

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

Budget cuts. Infectious disease. Conflict of interest scandals. Bioterrorism. Just when the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) thought it had faced just about every conceivable problem, today a black bear (Ursus americanus) took shelter in one of the pine trees on its sprawling campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

At about midday, NIH employees received an e-mail telling them about the bear (which apparently breached NIH’s security fence, built after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks). Local police, media, and animal control officials soon descended, according to media reports. Soon, Twitter was abuzz with bear reports and jokes.

“OMG the bear is at NIH! The bear does not have appropriate identification!” tweeted ‏@sarahrodeo.

“I'm sure he's trying to find parking,” speculated ‏@SofiaL246.

The bear even appeared to have his own Twitter handle—@NIH_Bear. “I'm not a bear! I'm Senior Faculty here to grumble about funding lines!!” came a tweet from the account, suspiciously also marked “@NIHDirector.”

“It's summertime. I need to fatten up,” read another @NIH_Bear dispatch. “Please send more junior investigators. #yum.”

“Who among you has not, when funding decisions weren't going your way, climbed a tree on the @NIH campus and eaten a librarian?” @NIH_Bear asked.

“I want Collins, in a scuba-suit, with an R01 and a budget-cap waiver,” @NIH_Bear demanded at one point. (Francis Collins is NIH’s director; an R01 is the agency’s bread-and-butter grant.)

After local media reported that officials were firing fireworks to scare the bear out of the tree, and considering using tranquilizing darts, ‏@DigitalDistrict had this very inside-the-beltway suggestion: “Instead of tranqs, just hold a 2 hour budget meeting underneath the tree. Guaranteed sedation.”

The bear had been tranquilized and was awaiting transport off the NIH campus as this item went to press.

Black bears have become increasingly frequent visitors to the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where NIH is located, as a result of booming populations.

(Video courtesy of WJLA)

Posted in Scientific Community