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Wildlife Park to focus on Black Bears in June

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on June 7, 2018

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 on Living with Black bears by Lori Lindsay is scheduled for Thursday, June 21, 2018 starting at 1:00 pm and will be held in the Florida Room at the park’s Visitor Center. There will be no charge to attend the program.

Lindsay has been working as a Bear Response Contractor with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for four years; and has been working with Black bears and doing educational programs on this subject for about 8 years.  She says, “Bears have become a passion of mine, and I love being able to share information about bears in hopes of keeping bears on our landscape, while keeping both bears and humans safe.”  Lindsay adds that “Animals have always been an interest of mine – I was an assistance dog instructor for 13 years, and still enjoy doing some dog training now.”  She is a Florida Master Naturalist Land Steward and is currently working on completing her Florida Master Naturalist certification.

The Florida black bear is rebounding from endangered status. It is the largest mammal to live in the Sunshine State.

In her program, Lindsay will be covering basic bear biology and behavior, and things to do to remain safe when living or recreating in bear country.

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 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. If a bear huffs, snaps its jaws or swats the ground, it feels threatened.

Female bears often roam in springtime. FWC photo.

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. The estimated bear population number is now approximately 4050, or just over 4000 bears estimated to be in the state.  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 amazing climbers.

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.

Bears are notorious for seeking human garbage in trash cans. FWC photo.

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.

Summer Camp at the Wildlife Park

In other news at the wildlife park Cape Leisure Corporation will be holding two sessions of Camp Wildlife at Homosassa Springs. They are now offering five full days with plenty of thing to do. Activities include special animal experiences, animal meal preparation, wildlife hospital and manatee rehabilitation tours, plus hands-on activities. The first camp session will run from June 18 through June 22 for 8 -10-year olds. A July camp session will run from July 16 through July 20 for 11 and 12-year olds. For more information and to register, pick up a registration form at the gift shops at the Wildlife Park or e-mail Marie Thompson at [email protected].

We 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.

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