One of the more imposing creatures that the Swamp Men have to corral in the course of a workday at Billie Swamp Safari in Big Cypress Swamp is the Florida black bear. Ursus americanus floridanus a sub species of the black bear, is the biggest native land mammal in the state. Males can grow to up to six feet in length and 450 pounds in weight. The Florida black bear has a shiny, black coat of long fur, sometimes with a white diamond-shaped pattern on the chest, and a light brown nose and snout. It also has long, sharp claws that help it to climb trees or dig for food. According to this Orlando Sentinel article, there once were about 12,000 black bears in Florida, but the present population is estimated at just 1,500, and the state classifies them as a threatened species. One big reason for the decline of the Florida black bear is that they need an extensive range to survive—for males, about 66 square miles—and that puts them in conflict with the spread of human development. They’re often the victim of collisions with cars and trucks on rural roadways.
As a Florida state government page on black bears notes, they’re considered an “umbrella species:” and thus, an important part of the swamp ecosystem.
Florida black bears are omnivores who live mostly on berries, acorns, insects and palmetto hearts. But they also like to scavenge for meat, and are attracted by outdoor pet food bowls and garbage cans overflowing with table scraps. That brings them into dangerously close contact with the human population. Though there’s never been a documented instance of a fatal black bear attack on a human in the state, a man in Longwood, a community in central Florida recently had a close call with a bear that liked to feed in his yard, according to this local newspaper article.
Wildlife officials prefer to trap black bears who get too close to humans, tranquillize them, and relocate them to distant forests. But a 2007 study by University of Florida researcher Kim Annis found that often doesn’t work so well. Annis tracked the movements of 41 relocated bears over a two-and-a-half year period, and found that almost half of them got into trouble again by returning to residential neighborhoods to dig through trash and eat pet food. As an Orlando Sentinel article on the study detailed:
Watch the Swamp Men try to capture a Florida black bear in the next episode, on Monday, May 17 at 10 PM ET/PT.