After a rash of stories about bear attacks on hikers around the United States, we were surprised by a bear wandering past our car at a parking lot in a popular county park.
Time to find out how to handle bears in Florida. It wasn’t an issue for most of our lives, but the growing bear population and the spillover of human settlement into bear habitat is inviting more and more complex.
We called on the best source we know, Joy Hill at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, to offer up some bear safety tips for Florida hikers. Here’s what she had to say.
If You Encounter a Bear
If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear.
If it notices you, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back away slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
If You Encounter a Bear at Close Range
If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright.
Back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
Make sure you are not between the bear and its cubs.
Do not turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
If the bear paws the ground, huffs and puffs, clacks and snorts, or runs directly at you, they are 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 his back on you and leaving.
If A Bear Attacks You
Do not corner the bear. Fight back aggressively!
People in other states have successfully fended off black bear attacks using rocks, sticks, or even their bare hands.
After the attack, call 911 immediately.
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!
Contact FWC to report any bear that has threatened the safety of humans, pets, or livestock.
This includes if a bear has broken into screen rooms, sheds, or garages, or rummaged through your tent, car, or camper.
Call 888-404-3922 to report all bear incidents.
Thanks to Joy and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for this advice.
They provide much more information about Florida black bears on their website.