The Florida Black Bear

 

Run! Run! Run! Bear! Bear!!

Whoa there!  So, where are you running off to?

A human's first inclination is to fear what they don't understand.  Maybe this behavior is programmed into us which our prehistoric ancestors utilized to stay out of danger.  Honestly, there is no need to fear the Florida Black Bear.  As a matter of fact, the Florida Black bear is a timid creature.  There is no documented case in which a black bear ever attacked a human. Maybe, and most likely, the black bear is more afraid of you, the human.

This time of year (spring and summer) bears have been seen in neighborhoods and backyards of blossoming subdivisions around the state of Florida.  Subdivisions that were formerly black bear habitat.  A recent news story from Orlando told of a human stepping out into her yard and discovering a mother bear and her cubs in a tree.

 Are humans and black bears on a crash course?

Here is another story of bears in the Orlando area.  A report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission responded to a call of a bear wandering around a neighborhood.  At around 12:30 am the bear wandered off into the darkness and was lost site of.  Most likely, the bear spent the next day sleeping in a hiding place.  In the evening the critter will again wander about looking for a place to go where it feels safe. 

This bear was probably a young male from the Wekiva River Basin area on a quest to find its own territory.  Bear territories now days sometimes overlap the same areas claimed by humans.  This bear ended up right smack dab in the city of Orlando.  On the positive side, this bear most likely found its way out into the forest area not inhabited by humans. 

Just a few months ago, a black bear was observed wandering around backyards in the Golden Gate Estates area.  Golden Gate Estates is considered a suburb of Naples Florida.  This area is recently claimed Everglades land and the Estates as its called backs up to the Everglades.  Again, Black Bear habitat.

The author had experience with a wandering black bear while living on the edge of the Everglades.  This bear, a juvenile was tagged.  There was a green tag on his ear. This means he was a nuisance bear and had been relocated to the area I was living.   I lived in an area where there were very few people.  This bear was trying very hard to find food and establish a territory.  Most likely, the bear had been fed by people because he was very comfortable approaching me to within a few feet.  After knocking over garbage cans and destroying a freezer that held meat, he was asked to leave.  He would wander off into the woods after being scolded but with an eye toward his back side to see if I was still looking.  These encounters and conversations went on for quite some time. 

The very best thing to do in most cases when you see a bear, is to simply leave the animal alone.  He will find his way out of human areas.  After all, most of the black bears in Florida are weary of humans.

Bears do most of their traveling at night and they usually will never be seen by people.  These creatures may wander into and out of yards.  You probably would never know they had been there. 

So why does it seem that there are more black bear sightings in Florida?  Florida expanding daily with an influx of people has seen bear habitat taken over by housing and highways.  Bears foraging for food and establishing territories manage to run into people at every turn. 

A good thing to remember is that human/bear encounters are generally peaceful.  Bears in Florida are not aggressive towards people.  However, as peaceful as they may be, these encounters are rarely uneventful as most people get pretty excited when they arrive home to find a bear rummaging through their garbage cans.  To top it off, dogs are barking and the local television news cameras become busy recording the event.  And of course, the cops are called to "handle" the situation. 

So where did the bear go?  Up a tree to stay safe from the noisy humans.  And there he will stay through the night if need be.  When the coast is clear, he will descend from the tree and wander away. 

People in these areas can help discourage bears from hanging around.  Bears are opportunistic feeders.  This means that whatever the easiest path is to their next meal; that is the route they will take.  Bears are also very smart and they know it is much easier to knock over a garbage can and eat the good stuff the humans discarded.  In addition, they will eat dog food left out for the family pet.  They will even raid a bird feeder.  In the forest, he would be competing with other animals for nuts, berries and insects.  Some people even feed the bears because they like having them around.  The latter situation can be a death sentence for a bear.  He will lose his sense of fear of humans and think nothing of approaching you for a handout.  Just like the bear the author encountered in the Everglades.  Of course, the bear will either be relocated or killed when the neighborhood residents insist the bear be removed.  All because the humans either fed the bear or made it easy for him to hang around.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has recognized that feeding bears and other wildlife like foxes, raccoons and sandhill cranes has become a serious issue.  If you feed one of these animals, you can be liable for a second degree misdemeanor.  Please remember, as good hearted as it may seem, feeding a bear hurts them.  They will forget to know how to find food for themselves and will instead, rely on handouts from humans.  You may not feel that they are a nuisance, but guaranteed, others in your area will not feel the same way.  Many humans living in these areas are transplants from cities all over the United States.  These new arrivals have never seen a bear outside of a zoo before, so they will naturally be afraid at the site of a bear wandering around the neighborhood.  Someone will call the authorities to complain and the bear will suffer by either being relocated or killed.  Don't forget, when a bear is transported to a new area, he will now have to establish a territory all over again.  This reduces the bear's chances for survival. In addition, the bear may attempt to head back home.  He may try to cross busy roads and of course run through neighborhoods on his trek back to the original territory.  There have been many bears killed on busy Florida roads.  Need we say more?

Humans living in bear habitat can make a difference.  Please don't feed them under any circumstances.  Secondly, don't make it easy for them to hang around for easy food.  Make sure the lids on garbage cans are on tight and uneaten food left outside for your pets is discarded after a reasonable amount of time.

We humans also need to support efforts at preserving bear habitat including transition areas for them to cross over to other territories.  This means encouraging local governments to not allow building in known bear habitat areas and demanding mitigation areas be established where developers take land for housing projects.

Remember. even though there has never been a bear attack on a human, these animals are large and very powerful.  Respect them as they are and let them live their lives as we wish to be left alone to live ours.  Help any way you can to insure the future of the Florida Black Bear.

The Bear Facts

Florida Black Bear Pictures