Rescued Bear Cub to Live in Homosassa
The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Wildlife State Park is part of a cooperative effort between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and state-wide bear rehabilitation facilities. Each year, up to 11 rescued Florida Black bears are given to the park for rehabilitation and release back into the wild, but Park visitors never see them.
“We have a 100% success rate for our rehabilitated bears,” shared Andrea Junkunc, Park Services Specialist, at the first viewing of their latest project, Maximus.
Maximus, the Orphaned Baby Black Bear to Live at Wildlife Park
On Wednesday, July 31, 2019, the
He was rambunctious and curious when NatureCoaster visited, playing with the water in his trough and eventually sat up in it, like a bathtub. He climbed the walls of his chain link temporary habitat, pulled on saw palmetto leaves, tasted sticks and everything else he could.
Max is simply adorable.
Being the first day he was interacting with the public, the Wildlife Care team had several members looking after him. “We are pleased with how well he is doing on his first day of seeing so many new people,” Trisha explained.
Although he has been bottle-fed, cleaned, crate trained, and bonded with his caregivers, it is a big first step for an orphaned wild animal to meet a crowd – even if they are all fans.
Max seemed to take it all in stride, playing with everything within his grasp like a little bear should.
How Maximus came to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Born in the wild in February, young Maximus was orphaned by his mother in the Florida panhandle for unknown reasons. He was found by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) weighing a mere four pounds at the time of rescue. Fortunately, Maximus’ mother is a tagged and collared Florida Black bear, so FWC was aware of the situation.
The tiny young bear received medical care and around-the-clock supervision, requiring frequent feedings. Despite caregivers’ best efforts, FWC deemed the young bear non-releasable and it just happened that there was space available for a permanent resident bear at Homosassa.
Maximus the Orphaned Bear Cub receives Committed Care at the Park
At the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Wildlife State Park, Darin Wilson was given the opportunity to care for Maximus. As a Ranger who has been part of the Wildlife Care team for 2 years, Darin is thrilled to be working with ‘Max’.
Max was about 11 pounds when he came to the Wildlife Park in March. Darin has been working closely with the bear cub, bonding with him. He teaches Max crate training, as well as cleaning and feeding him.
“How many people can say they bond with a bear for their job?” Darin tells me with a wide grin on his face and palpable joy. “The bond is great for enrichment for Max, and for me.”
Max is nearly 40 pounds now. He is fed fruits, vegetables
Homosassa Wildlife State Park helps to Rehabilitate and Release Orphaned Bears Year-Round
“Florida’s only Wildlife State Park not only works in cooperation with FWC to rehabilitate orphaned black bears and release them back into the wild, but also has the facilities to house several non-releasable bears,” says Kate Spratt, the Park’s Service Specialist.
There are facilities to rehabilitate up to 11 bears at the Park. These are behind the scenes and manned by the Wildlife Care team, headed up by Trisha Fowler.
“Bears are typically born in February and brought to the Park by June for rehabilitation. We try to get them ready to go back to their natural environments by January of the following year when they are big enough to safely integrate,” Andrea Junkunc explains. “FWC tracks the bears and none of our bears have been found after release.”
Managing and Integrating Homosassa’s Newest Resident with the Park
“We will be bringing Max out on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 2:30-3:30 for the public to see until he is old enough to safely enjoy the Park’s bear habitat without supervision,” Trisha Fowler tells the onlookers, “He will be living in the bear rehabilitation area until then. When he is mature enough, we will bring him to the Florida Black bear habitat for a day, with Biddy living in the rehabilitation area and then exchange them, giving both an opportunity for solitude and public interaction.”
With Max not being Biddy’s offspring, it is unwise to put them together.
Florida Black Bears are part of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park’s History
Prior to Maximus’ arrival, the State Park housed one adult Florida black bear, Biddy. She arrived with her twin brother, Brutus, as cubs in the early 2000s, residing at the Park ever since. With the passing of Brutus in 2018, Biddy has been the only resident Florida black bear in the park.
“Bears tend to be solitary creatures,” Andrea explains. “Biddy enjoys her solitude as bears in the wild typically keep to themselves.”
Keeping this in mind, Biddy and the newcomer Maximus will spend time on exhibit separately, following a rotating schedule like that of the panthers who reside at the Park.
Volunteers are the Heartbeat of this Wildlife State Park
On Wednesday, July 31, Park volunteer Mary Ann Desimone explained about Florida Black bears, including their eating habits, life expectancy, typical lifestyle and range. She answered questions for the 40 or so visitors who came to greet Maximus on his first day interacting with the public.
“I have been to bear college twice in the 1990s, the ‘Cubs for Kids’ training. I love animals, teaching and interacting with children,” Mary Ann explains about how she acquired her knowledge of Florida Black bears. She has been volunteering at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park for 24 years.
Interested in coming to the park to view the young Maximus?
Maximus, the orphaned Florida Black bear, will be in a special exhibit located on the Wildlife Walk across from the bobcats on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 2:30pm to 3:30pm, weather permitting, until he is mature enough to release into the bear habitat.
Visitors to the park may see Maximus at that time and speak with a ranger about him.
The park entrance is located at 4150 S Suncoast Blvd. in Homosassa. Hours are 9 am to 5:30 pm daily, with last entry at 4:45 pm. The cost for entry is Adults (age 13+) $13, Children (ages 6-12) $5, Children 5 and under, free. For more information, call the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park office at 352-628-5343.
Postscript: Special thanks to Joe Dube for the excellent photos of Max and to the Wildlife Care Team at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park for taking the time to answer our questions – and their commitment to Florida’s wildlife.