Florida Black Bears have long been residents of Mount Dora and the surrounding areas. However, bear sightings have been a more frequent occurrence in recent months. In addition to nearby construction projects in bear habitats, it’s also the season when older cubs are pushed out on their own so their mothers can find a new mate. However, the sighting of a Florida Black Bear doesn’t necessarily represent a threat. In mid-July, a young, non-aggressive, 105 pound female bear was tranquilized, transported and euthanized by officials after it climbed two trees near downtown Mount Dora. WIth the help of the Fish and WIldlife Conservation Commission (FWC), here are some tips to help residents understand and safely co-exist with these bears:
1. Fraidy Cat Florida Black Bears are typically not an aggressive species. They avoid humans and eat mostly plant-based foods like berries and seeds. Bear attacks on people in Florida are rare, but bears will defend themselves, cubs and their food. Mother bears will take defensive measures if they feel their cubs are threatened. Always be aware of your surroundings and maintain a safe distance. Keep dogs away from bears who may have cubs nearby. 2. Face-to-Face with a Bear If you end up in close contact with a bear, remain standing and don't make any sudden movement. Speak to the bear in a calm assertive voice, back up slowly toward a secure area and make sure you leave the bear a clear escape route. Avoid direct eye contact - bears and other animals may view this as aggressive behavior. If your movement away seems to irritate the bear instead of calm it, stop and hold your ground. Don't run, don’t play dead and don’t climb a tree.
3. Think Before You Call When bears are spotted they are often just passing through in search of food or a mate. Unless you have attractants (food), they will move along to other parts of their large range. Calling authorities just for sighting a bear, even a young bear, often results in the animal’s death rather than its relocation. FWC found that relocating bears to other areas isn’t an effective strategy to reduce human-bear conflicts. Additionally, locations in Florida that experience bear conflicts are in bear range, and so the chance of another bear finding that same food source is very high. 4. Scare the Bear! Bears have very acute hearing and don’t like loud noises. If you spot a bear in your yard, get to a safe place, make sure the bear has a clear escape route, and then make tons of noise. Use car horns, sports whistles, bang pot and pans, or blare air horns to encourage the bear to continue on its way.
5. What’s the Bear Telling You? Contrary to popular thought, a bear that feels threatened does not roar or growl. It may slap the ground, "huff" or blow air forcefully through their nose or mouth, and/or snap its teeth together. If these behaviors don't scare off the source of their unease, the bear may bluff charge, running toward the source and then veering away. Yes, that would be quite scary. Rather than growl or make a noise, a bear that is aggressive toward humans will stare, protrude their lower lip, and flatten their ears. Standing on their hind legs also isn’t a sign of aggression. Black bears are curious creatures and this is merely a way to get a better vantage point of their surroundings. Females communicate with their young by grunts or moans to send their cubs up trees for safety, or to have them follow her. Cubs bawl and moan when distressed, and make a grunting purr sound when suckling.
6. “A Fed Bear Is a Dead Bear” It may seems obvious; however, residents often don’t realize bird feeders, trash cans, and pet food left outside provide a buffet for bears. Think a bird feeder isn’t a big deal? Think again. Eighty percent of a Florida black bear’s diet is from nuts and berries, not meat. Bears quickly learn to associate people with food, so when food-conditioning occurs, a bear can lose its life-preserving fear of humans and will return to the area as long as food is available. FWC states there is little that can be done to make these bears wild again, and they are often killed by illegal shooting, euthanasia, and vehicle collisions.
7. Bears Being Bears Remember, the mere sighting of a bear isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. Male and female black bears have a 60-mile and 15-mile range respectively. Without finding food, they will keep passing through. However, after the bear leaves the area, be sure to double-check that there are no attractants in the area. 8. Close the Buffet About 80 percent of a black bear’s diet comes from plants, 15 percent from insects, 5 percent from meat (opossums, armadillos, etc.). Bears and other wildlife linger in residential neighborhoods because of easy access to human-provided foods. If the unsecured food sources—garbage, bird feeders, compost piles, un-picked fruit, livestock, and pet/livestock/bird foods—are eliminated, the problem is eliminated. Bears will move out of the neighborhood to search out another food source. Find out about getting one of Lake County's bear-resistant trash cans here.
9. Patience Is a Virtue Once a bear has identified a food source, it can take several weeks after removing attractants before a bear understands that the source of food is no longer available. 10. Obey the Law Intentionally placing food or garbage out to attract bears is illegal. What attracts dogs, cats and racoons will also get the attention of bears. If you see someone feeding bears, call the Wildlife Hotline at 888-404-3922. It’s also illegal to kill a bear without an FWC issued hunting or depredation permit, unless it is to protect human life. A viable alternative to shooting a bear perceived as a threat is the use of bear spray. It’s an extremely effective deterrent and can be used at a distance of 20-30 feet.
10 Facts About Florida Black Bears: - They are the only bear species in Florida with a population estimated at 4050 statewide. - Adult male black bears usually weigh between 250 to 350 lbs. (the largest was 760 lbs.). - Adult female black bears typically weigh between 130 and 180 lbs. (the largest was 400 lbs.). - Bears see in color, but don’t see a lot of details after 30 yards. - Mating season runs from June to August and cubs are born around late January or early February. - Female bears have their first litter at about 3 ½ years old and can have a litter every other year. - Bears often climb trees when they are frightened. - A bear’s strongest sense is smell, thought to be the strongest of any land animal. They also have hearing that is almost twice as sensitive as humans. - Black bears can sprint up to 35 mph.
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Below is a FWC video of a bear vs. a bear resistant trash can full of treats.