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Wildlife Park Focuses on Florida Black Bears in June

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on June 2, 2016

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will be focusing on Florida’s black bears during the month of June.  Two programs are planned on the theme of black bears with displays and hands-on activities in the Visitor Center and in the Discovery Center.

A Wildlife Jeopardy program on Black Bears by Barbara Cairns will be presented on Saturday, June 18, 2016, starting at 12 Noon.  The half-hour Wildlife Jeopardy program will use a 20-question format inviting visitors, old and young alike, to test their knowledge about Florida’s black bears and their cousins. Her goal is to have each person learn at least one new thing about bears. Hand-outs will be provided. The program will be held in the Discovery Center. Regular park admission applies to attend this program.

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Barbara Cairns, long-time park volunteer, published author, and June’s Black Bear Wildlife Jeopardy presenter. Photo by Susan Strawbridge

Barbara volunteers as a docent in the Discovery Center and is a retired school principal in overseas Dept. of Defense Schools in Labrador, Germany and Panama. She is also a published author with articles and stories in books, magazines and newspapers. Her books include Cracker Cow: a Narrative of Florida History, Gatsby’s Grand Adventures a series of picture books, and The Not So Secret Life of Nimh, A Dumbo Rat. Her latest novel is Nettie’s Dream.

On Friday, June 24, 2016, Angeline Scotten, a Senior Wildlife Assistance Biologist with Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission will offer a program titled Florida’s Black Bears.  This educational program will discuss several subjects including biology, behavior, conflicts and attractants, and ultimately how to coexist with bears. The presentation is about 30 minutes long with time for questions.

Biddy ball
Biddy enjoys her ball. Photo by Ginny Svoboda.

Angeline Scotten is a fifth generation Floridian and was born and raised in Jupiter, Florida. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with her Bachelors of Science degree in wildlife and fisheries science (concentrating in wildlife management), and her minor in forestry. After spending several years doing field work in various states in the southeast, she settled back in Florida with her current position. She has been with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) since 2012 as a biologist concentrating on nuisance wildlife issue in South Florida. There is no charge to attend the Florida’s Black Bears presentation by Angeline Scotten on June 24th.

The 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 you can learn a great deal about these mammals. 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. A bear may huff, snap its jaws and swat the ground if it feels threatened.

Black bears might “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened or 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.

Biddy
Biddy the black bear by Joe Dube

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% percent 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
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.

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.

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

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is home to two Florida Black Bears named Brutus and Biddy. They are siblings and were rescued from the wild as orphan cubs. They are now full grown.

In other news Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is getting ready for a Wildlife Ranger Camp for 8 and 9 year olds. This is scheduled for June 13 through 17, 2016. Applications are available in the Park office.

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.

Each Wildlife Ranger Camp 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.

HSSWP Sign

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 10 through 12 years is scheduled for July 11 through 15, 2016. 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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