The American Black Bear has a wide range. They are found along
the eastern seaboard of North America from Alaska to Northern
Mexico and in parts of western United States. They are very
adaptable so they have learned to survive in closer proximity to
humans than many other wild creatures. This very trait that
helped them survive for millions of years, now is putting them
on the path to extinction.
They have become wonderful scavengers
and have learned to raid garbage dumps and food left outdoors
for pets, which often lead to bear human clashes. This behavior
has led to serious problems in Florida. It could be easily
discouraged by humans using bear proof cans and not putting food
out where bears are attracted to it at night. However, given a
choice Governor Rick Scott's Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission (FWC) has gone after the bears. In spite
of the fact they have only been taken off the Endangered Species
List in 2012. FWC authorized a hunt without first establishing
how many bears we actually have in Florida. Then they issued
unlimited permits. In spite of heavy opposition from a majority
of the citizens of the state, on October 24, 2015, there were
more licensed bear hunters in the woods than bears. (No one has
any way of knowing how many unlicensed poachers were there as
Based on FWC's own projections, the Florida black bear is
2.3 million acres of habitat by 2060. Already, thanks to
overdevelopment in their habitat, bears only have 18%
of the habitat they once had, so naturally there will be sighting
of bears in Florida neighborhoods. A few safety points are:
avoid getting between a mother bear and her cubs, never feed
them and do not leave food where they will smell it and be drawn
to it, do not try to get too close. Normally, bears are shy and
will avoid humans if possible but if you do cause it to exhibit
aggressive behaviors such as running toward you, making loud
noises, or pawing the ground that indicates the bear is trying
to get more space. Don't ever run just slowly back away while
keeping your eyes on the bear. As you move away, the bear will
probably do the same.
I have enjoyed seeing these remarkable creatures in the wild
occasionally, as well as in refuges and zoos. Unlike their
cousins, the grizzlies, they do not hibernate. In the northern
part of their habitat; they will remain in their den and dormant
in winter. In Florida they may build dens in trees or palmetto
thickets but do not become dormant. The only one I ever saw in
Florida in the wild was in Ocala National Forest while
researching my Wild About
|Momma bear teaching her two cubs
how to cross a road in Cades Cove
Other states have learned that they are a attraction for
visitors. Cades Cove
in Great Smokey National Park is a wonderful place to see them
in the wild. Last year over 10 million visitors enjoyed the park
and Cades Cove is its most popular destination.
I have seen bears almost every time I visited there. Once there
was a mother bear and two tiny cubs near one of the old
churches. We kept our distance and watched in awe. If you want
to enjoy a safe bear sighting experience in the wild, Cades Cove
would be my number one pick. See more at
|Bear cub looking down from a
tree top perch
If you want to see a bear in the wild in Florida, before FWC
eliminates all of our bears, I would suggest
Ocala National Forest.
430,000 scenic acres of the most diverse terrain imaginable.
It contains highlands, swamps, 600 lakes, countless
ponds, 23 streams and springs of clear crystal water.
It's bounded by the slow, dark waters of the Ocklawaha
River on the west and
the larger, faster moving St.
Johns River on the east. Actually this vast forest is partially
Lake, Putnam and Seminole.
|A lone bear at Cades Cove
The forest is home
to a multitude of animals and they probably have the largest
population of black bears in the state.
was on one of the forest roads off Hwy. 19 just south of Hwy.
40. A large black bear lumbered out of the woods and crossed the
road just about 100 feet ahead of us. We were too surprised to
get the camera focused on him before he entered the forest on
the other side of the road and disappeared among the trees. The
really rough and had lots of deep puddles
so I suggest you have a four-wheel
if you brave it.
Sadly hunting is allowed here. We can only hope the one we saw
If you're looking to see the Florida black bear in more
traditional surroundings, many of the Florida zoos recognize the
need to protect the beautiful creatures and have created special
Naples is home to Caribbean Gardens and has
created Black Bear Hammock, the largest black bear exhibit at
any Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoo east of the
Mississippi. It allows the bear to romp in a suburban style
backyard setting with a picnic table and kiddy pool as well as
the more natural traditional habitat. The traditional habitat
shows some of what had destroyed the bears' homeland over the
years in Florida. Human intrusion is displayed by means of some
cypress stumps and logs, a shack, and a railroad trestle over a
series of descending pools. The display is home to two bears
rescued several years ago. These bears will not be bored.
|Bears in a zoo enjoy social time
Central Florida Zoological Park and Botanical Gardens
is the crowning jewel of Seminole County. It's a small but well
maintained zoo. Central Florida Zoo is working on Florida Black
Bear Habitat. It will house three bears in two separate
exhibits. One is a bear that attacked a Seminole County resident
in 2013 and was captured by Florida wildlife officers. The bear
had three cubs. One was killed by a car before it could be
captured. The other two were raised and later released in Ocala
National Forest. Incidentally although the mother bear was
spared because of her babies, two other innocent bears were
killed after the attack. DNA tests done after the bears were
dead, proved they had not been the ones to attack the woman.
|Black Bear Habitat planned for
Central Florida Zoo -- Photo credit Central Florida Zoo
The other two bears in the exhibit are a brother and sister
which were being kept illegally by some loggers in Georgia. The
cubs were far too used to interacting with people to release
them in the wild.
Too often this is the problem people cause when they feed and
encourage bears and do not realize they are setting the stage
for a tragedy.
|Entrance to Black Bear Habitat
planned for Central Florida Zoo -- Photo credit Central
Their brochure states the reason behind the new habitat: "There
has never been a more urgent time than now to educate the
community of Central Florida about living with the Florida black
bear. Our community has grown and we have encroached
on a valuable and necessary part of our Florida ecosystem; the
black bear." Alix Black, Business Communications Manager at
Central Florida Zoo, said it is for this reason, "We are also
offering free bear presentations to groups in the community. The
presentations are educational and instructional and are loaded
with info about bears and tips on how to live safely with
Palm Beach Zoo
began in the 1950s when Paul Dreher, Parks Director for the City
of West Palm Beach, started it as a garden with a few chickens,
two ducks, a goose and a goat. It has grown and become a
institution in West Palm Beach. Its mission is to "protect
wildlife and wildlife habitat, and to inspire others to value
and conserve the natural world."
|Bear enjoys the stimulation of
walking across a log
To fulfill this, one of the programs it has instituted is a
unique interactive experience with their resident bears, Lewis
and Clark. It's a behind the scenes look at the bear habitat in
the zoo called the "Oh, Honey" Experience. Visitors are given a
lot of information as they tour the dens and then get to feed
the bears some honey. It's a simple training sequence keepers do
automatically but for a person who had never worked with a bear
it is an unbelievable experience. The point of the experience is
not only the fun. It's a chance to learn ways to respect and
protect these precious creatures.
is one of Florida's oldest and largest zoos. It brought in its
first bear in the 1960s and have fostered and protected this
native animal ever since. It's
Wild Florida habitat
is a 2.5 acre natural wetland that is home to the bears, wolves, cranes, bald eagles, bobcats, deer and
owls as well as alligators and some of Florida's reptiles
and many other interesting animals.
|Jacksonville Zoo bear watches
the people watching him
Lowry Park Zoo
in Tampa is one of the country's favorite zoos. Voted the #1 Zoo
in the U.S. by Parents Magazine in 2009, it offers a special
children's section as well as many educational and fun exhibits
for all ages. It is currently providing a safe home to three
bears that would have been killed otherwise. Lisa, one of the
bear keepers, told me about them.
"Newberry came from
around Homosassa, Florida. She is about 3 years old now but was
about 6 month old when we got her."
|Newberry at Tampa Zoo
enjoys her habitat
They do not know how she was orphaned. Bear cubs stay with the
mother for much longer than most animals, from 16 months to two
years. This is how they learn to forage and care for themselves
just like human young. Bears
who lose their mothers before this often do not know how to
Campbell, their other female, came from Montana at about the
same time and age. She too was found orphaned. She was kept at a
rehab facility for awhile but got too used to human contact so
could not be released.
Sam, their male, is the oldest, about 13 years old. He has been
here the longest, over 10 years. He originally lived in Missouri
but had gotten into the habit of rummaging in trash cans looking
for an easy meal.
Lisa and her fellow keepers do not have an official "keeper
talk" but she told me, "Especially in summer when the bears are
more active, we do a midday feeding where we throw food to them
and talk to people about the bears."
|Newberry strolling along her
Bears are safe in zoos at least for now. In Texas and Missouri,
gun toters are going to court to be allowed to bring guns into
zoos on public property where traditionally they are not
allowed. Considering the number of children visiting zoos, who
knows how this will work out?
Maybe they want to shoot bears in there as well as in the
I know there are those who say zoos are like a jail. Modern zoos
are no longer those places with restless animals pacing in tiny
cages. They are trying to match the native habitat and provide
mental and physical stimulation for their animals. One of the
things many zoos are doing is captive breeding programs. They
recognize this may be the only chance to prevent extinction in
endangered and threatened species. The Species Survival Plan
(SSP) was developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
(AZA) in 1981. Of the eight bear species, black and brown bears
are not included since 2012when they were on the endangered list
but if this type of dangerous hunting continues in Florida (or
anywhere) they could be added again.
If they gave an award for the most unique wildlife rescue
sanctuary, it would surely go to
Standing for Creating Animal Respect and Education.
Christin Burford, the director and driving force behind
has been working to relive the plight of abused and homeless
animals since 1996, when she founded the C.A.R.E. Foundation to
provide a home for non-releasable exotic animals that would
otherwise be difficult or impossible to place. She had brought
together species that normally would not interact but at her
facility they are best friends such as a pop bellied pig and a
CARE is one of the refuges that take in bears that need to be
housed where they cannot interact in the wild with humans. The
two resident black bears at CARE are Quinn and Lola. Quinn was
declawed as a baby and raised with people so he could never go
back in the wild. Lola was used in a Florida TV show and then
was going to be auctioned off (probably for a canned hunt). Both
have safe homes today thanks to this wonderful facility.
| A large bear in a tree at Cades
Zoos and refuges offer other alternatives to bear/human problems
besides killing the bear. When there is a bear and human
conflict where the bear cannot be relocated to a safe place in
the wild, zoos and refuges are a viable alternative. If FWC
feels there are too many bears, spay and neutering is yet
another option. Last case scenario, when bears have to be
killed, it could be done mercifully by rounding up the older
sick bears and humanely putting them down. Allowing people to
pay for the right to kill this magnificent creature is as
barbaric as the spectacles in ancient Rome where people paid to
see humans fed to lions and gladiators fight to the death. Have
we not risen above this level of "sport?"
If you would like to learn more about how to help stop future
hunts in Florida, this is a good place to go.
For more info on where to see bears: