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Learn About Black Bears at the Wildlife Park in June

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on June 8, 2017

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be focusing on Florida’s Black bears during the month of June.  There will be displays and hands-on activities in the Visitor Center and in the Discovery Center throughout the month.  A special program is planned on the theme of Black bears on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

The presentation will be held in the Florida Room at the park’s Visitor Center, starting at 1:00 pm by Natalae Almeter. Natalae has worked as a biologist for almost a decade. She has worked on wildlife censuses, bald eagle monitoring, gopher tortoise relocations, black bear surveys, upland and wetland restoration, and mitigation projects. She led an environmental restoration, education and volunteer program for Seminole County and joined the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Bear Management Program in 2015. She now works passionately to achieve sustainable coexistence with the Florida black bear through public outreach and partnership.

Brutus and Biddy are black bear residents at the park. Photo by Joe Dube

Almeter’s program will give us an update on the Florida black bear population which has recovered from historically low numbers and is considered a great conservation success story. At the same time, Florida’s population has greatly increased and bears and people encounter each other more than ever. Learn how to coexist with this incredible species and become BearWise to ensure they remain a valued part of Florida’s natural heritage.  The program will be held in the Florida Room at the park’s Visitor Center located on US 19.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has a brochure available titled A Guide to Living in Bear Country with lots of valuable information on black bears and how we can coexist with them. According to this informative pamphlet, black bears are shy animals and generally not aggressive towards people. When a bear stands on its hind legs, it is merely trying to get a better view, rather than acting in a threatening way. If a bear huffs, snaps its jaws or swats the ground, it feels threatened.

Biddy is a resident black bear at the Wildlife Park. She can be playful. Image by Susan Strawbridge.

Black bears might “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened or when stealing food. Stand your ground and then slowly back away. Always respect bears – they are large and powerful wild animals.

Black bears are the only species of bear in Florida.  The Black bear once roamed the state’s entire 34.5 million acres. They are now considered a threatened species. FWC biologists estimate that currently there are from 2,500 to 3,000 black bears in Florida. Florida’s Black bears are black with a brown muzzle and may have a white chest marking called a blaze. Adult bears can weigh from 150-400 pounds, with males usually being larger than females. Females have their first litter at approximately 3 ½ years of age and generally have one to three cubs every other year. The breeding season runs from June to August with cubs born seven months later.

Bears are good climbers. Image courtesy of the Ellis Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Bears of all ages are excellent climbers and will climb trees when they are frightened. Eighty percent of a Black bear’s diet comes from plants (fruits, nuts and berries), 15% from insects and only 5% from meat.

The FWC recommends that you do not intentionally feed or attract bears. If a bear is eating something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it after the bear has left the area.

To discourage bears it is important to properly store and secure residential garbage and other bear attractants such as trash and recycling containers, bird and squirrel feeders, game feeders, pet foods and bowls, barbecue grills and smokers, pets and small livestock, livestock feed, compost piles, beehives and fruit and nut-bearing trees and shrubs.

Biddy and her palm frond. Photo by Ginny Svoboda

These attractants can be secured by using electric fencing to protect gardens, compost piles, apiaries and livestock. FWC recommends that you store garbage and recyclables in bear-resistant containers in a secured area. Also feed your pets indoors or bring their food dishes inside before dark. Remove bird and wildlife feeders.

Never approach or surprise a bear. Keep as much distance as possible between yourself and the bear. Make sure you are in a secure area, and the bear has a clear escape route to leave the area. Then yell, bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Do not turn your back on the bear or run from it. Back away slowly into a house, car or building.

The FWC says you can help conserve Black bears by purchasing a Conserve Wildlife license plate at your local tax collector’s office or online at BuyAPlate.com.

Wildlife Ranger Camp June 19-23

In other news, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is getting ready for two Wildlife Ranger Camps. The first is for 8, 9 and 10 year olds and is scheduled for June 19 through 23, 2017. Applications for the Wildlife Ranger Camp are available in the park office. Each program is limited to 20 campers and will be filled on a first come basis with preference to those who have never attended before.

Wildlife Ranger Camps includes five, half-day camp sessions from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The cost of the program is $75 per child and includes a T-shirt and supplies.

Applicants will be asked to write a short essay on an animal that lives in Florida and why you think that animal is important to attach to their application. Parents and guardians may stop by the park office located in the Visitor Center on U.S. 19 to pick up an application. For more information, please call Rene Poppe at (352) 628-5343, ext. 1004.

Camp topics include mammals, birds, reptiles, manatees, the ocean, sea turtles, and saving energy through alternative sources. Indoor and outdoor activities for children include nature hunts, visiting the wildlife areas in the park and other scientific activities.

Another Wildlife Ranger Camp program for children ages 11 and 12 years is scheduled for July 17 through 21, 2017. For more information on Wildlife Ranger Camps, please contact Rene Poppe at (352) 628-5343, ext. 1004.

As you can see, we have a lot planned for June and encourage you to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn about the importance of Florida’s black bears and other native wildlife.  For more information or to register, please call Susan Strawbridge at (352) 628-5445, ext. 1002.

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