Two female Florida black bear cubs have arrived at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary where they will live the remainder of their lives.
The cubs were captured Sunday near Baker County Hospital in Macclenny. The sow with them has been euthanized because of her aggressiveness toward humans, entering residential neighborhoods, being fed by people and eating from garbage containers, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials.
Only one other facility -- Lions, Tigers & Bears of Arcadia, besides Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a nonprofit facility in Vero Beach that receives no governmental funding -- said it could take one or both of the cubs, if necessary. Both facilities have FWC permits to take in certain wildlife.
However, FWC officials said while finding a permitted facility for the cubs resulted in a positive outcome for them, usually that is not the case.
“These cubs are fortunate,” said Kipp Frohlich, section leader of Imperiled Species for FWC. “There are not many facilities willing to take bears, and we usually have to euthanize nuisance bears when they lose their fear of humans.
“That is why we cannot stress enough -- never feed a bear, and make sure to keep pet food, bird feeders and seed, garbage and other food items where bears cannot get into them.
“Bears are attracted to garbage. They like to dig in Dumpsters and garbage cans. But there are ways commercial Dumpsters and residential garbage cans can be tightly secured,” Frohlich said. “We need the cooperation of waste management companies and local communities if we are to solve this problem.”
The sow was sighted several times at an Orange County Dumpster which did not have a secured lid. Eventually, after owners secured the lid, the female and her cubs left the immediate vicinity and did not return.
“We can’t stress enough the illegality of feeding bears,” said Matthew Pollock, FWC’s North Central Regional wildlife management biologist.
In most cases, it results in them being accustomed to humans and conditions them to associate humans with food.
“That creates a public safety issue,” Pollock said. “Because they become conditioned to human food sources, they will tolerate the presence of people to gain access to food provided by humans.”
Information about how to avoid negative encounters with bears is found at http://myfwc.com/bear/brochures/flyer_food_attractants.pdf; http://myfwc.com/bear/conflicts.htm or http://myfwc.com/whatsnew/05/statewide/bears.html.
The cubs will remain in captivity for the remainder of their lives because they learned to associate humans with food from unsecured garbage containers and from people feeding them. Cubs usually remain with their mother for their first two years.
The bears’ plight began a year ago when, on Aug. 18, 2005, the sow, exhibiting stressed behavior, was found in a residential subdivision in Apopka. FWC officials relocated her to an adjacent wooded area for her safety. They did not deem her a nuisance bear at that time.
Then, on July 7, 2006, she was captured again in Apopka – this time near a garbage source – and deemed a nuisance. FWC officials relocated the sow and three cubs to the Apalachicola National Forest.
On Aug. 1, people in the vicinity of Gulf View Campground in Eastpoint reported seeing a tagged female bear with two cubs. (FWC officials do not know what happened to the third cub). On Aug. 3, a woman reported a female bear with two ear tags and two cubs at a residence in Eastpoint. The woman admitted to investigators she intentionally fed the sow and cubs by leaving a pile of dog food out for them but said she would remove the items. She also told investigators she noted aggressive behavior by the mother bear, according to FWC officials.
That same day, investigators and officials set a trap and captured the trio the next day.
The woman received a written warning for feeding the bears, but said she did not know she was doing anything wrong.
She also told the investigator she “was afraid (FWC) would euthanize the bears.”
The officer told her feeding bears could cause them to become familiar with humans and possibly cause the bears to become aggressive, which would require FWC to destroy them.
In an attempt to provide the bears one last opportunity to survive in the wild, FWC officials released the trio in a remote area of Osceola National Forest on the Columbia-Baker county line.
Then, on Sunday, less than two weeks after their release, the female and two cubs showed up in a resident’s garage in Macclenny, across from the Baker County Hospital emergency room.
FWC officials captured the bears and took them to an FWC facility pending final disposition.
“While to date no attacks by a Florida black bear on a human have been documented, people should give bears ample space and never attempt to disturb, pet or feed them,” said Stephanie Simek, FWC’s bear management program coordinator. “Bears are shy, intelligent and highly adaptable animals and typically avoid confrontations with people. Once they become accustomed to people as part of their surroundings, they no longer consider humans a threat.”
This article originally published on August 15, 2006.