Photo courtesy: Northwest Florida Daily News/Mark Kulaw
Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 2:14 PM CDT
Published : Wednesday, 23 May 2012, 2:13 PM CDT
Spring is the mating season for bears and that means the animals are on the move looking for mates and foraging for food.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bear management program coordinator Dave Telesco said his best advice is not to feed the bears.
It's illegal to do so in Florida anyway.
“Problems arise when bears have access to people-related food sources such as pet foods, garbage, barbecue grills, birdseed or livestock feed,” Telesco said. “Bears learn very quickly to associate people with food, and this puts the animals at increased risk of illegal kills or crossing highways and getting hit by vehicles.”
Regardless, you may find yourself face-to-face with a bear.
The Florida Wildlife Commission has some tips to avoid becoming a victim of a bear attack.
Q. How many bears are there in Florida?
A. The best scientifically valid population estimates total 2,500 to 3,000 bears statewide. Bears currently live in eight relatively isolated areas. While some populations appear to be doing well, others are still recovering.
Q. What do I do if I see a bear?
A. If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice. Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it once the bear leaves. NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If you are in your yard,
Make sure you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or a secure area.
Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline, 888-404-FWCC(3922) (see the “contact us” page). Cell phone users can call *FWC or #FWC.
Q. Are black bears fast runners or good climbers?
A. Absolutely! Bears can run up to 35 mph and climb 100 feet up a tree in 30 seconds! Do NOT run or climb a tree when you encounter a bear.
Don't run. Running triggers a chase instinct in many animals, including bears. You can’t outrun a bear.
Don't climb a tree. Bears are excellent tree climbers. Mother black bears often send their cubs up a tree when they sense danger. You don’t want to end up in a tree with a couple of cubs above you and a mother bear below you! If a bear chases you, you'll just end up fending off a bear in a tree rather than on the ground.
Don’t play dead or turn your back on the bear. Back away slowly, make sure the bear has a clear escape route. Stop and hold your ground if your movement away seems to irritate instead of calm the bear.
If bears feel threatened, they may clack their teeth together, moan, blow, huff or paw the ground. The bear is showing you that it is as uncomfortable with the situation as you are. These are not indications of aggressive intent or an imminent attack. Truly predatory or aggressive black bears are eerily silent.
Q. What do I do if the bear stands up on its hind legs?
A. If the bear stands up, this is NOT an aggressive behavior. The bear is only trying to see you better to figure out what you are and assess whether or not you are a threat. Back away slowly, making sure the bear has a clear escape route.
Q. What do I do if a bear comes toward me or attacks?
A. If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you but stops before reaching you and returns to where it started, it is trying to scare you off. If you stand your ground, the bear will likely stop and move away. No matter what happens, do not run away. Continue slowly backing away, talking and holding up your arms. The bear may charge or vocalize several times until it is comfortable turning its back on you and leaving.
While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, more than a dozen people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs or food sources.
If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively.
People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks or even their bare hands. Bears are wild animals and must be respected. Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm humans. Do not take unnecessary risks.