|A Florida Black Bear runs across a country lane toward a large expanse of woods|
July 16, 2012
"Want to take a walk with me to the mailbox?" my husband asked.
Evening was just around the corner and since we both spent the better part of the day inside, we were overdue for a bit of outdoor exercise.
"Sure," I said. "Just give me a minute to get ready and I'll join you."
I slipped into shoes, stuck the phone in my pocket and grabbed the camera. Even for a short walk, I make a point of taking a camera along just in case. I've been out too many times without one and missed some exciting shots.
Our mailbox is about a half-mile away. To get there, we meandered down our dirt driveway and the unpaved road, flanked by houses on one side and a 120-acre wood on the other.
After stopping to chat with a neighbor, we continued along. Mosquitoes were coming out and I was eager to get the mail, return home and jump into the lake before the bugs got the best of me. But a few steps farther along, all thoughts of biting insects vanished when I caught sight of something I had never seen before.
"Ralph! " I commanded, pointing ahead. "Stop! There's a bear right there!"
No sooner had the words escaped my lips than a black hunk of a creature emerged from beneath a broad oak tree. Instantly, the animal noticed us and shifted gears. When I first saw him, he was nosing something on the ground but seconds later he was lumbering across the road toward the safety of the woods. Midway, he stopped to size up the two humans who had interrupted his foraging.
While all this was happening — less than a minute — I was prying the camera from my pocket and directing it toward the bear. Click. One shot was all I got before the bear disappeared into the woods.
"Should we follow him?" Ralph asked eagerly.
I shook my head. "There's no way we'd be able to find him. He's too fast, the woods too dense. It's too late to try."
We continued to the mailbox on a cloud of excitement.
"I can't believe we saw a bear!" I repeated about a dozen times. "I'm so glad you were with me. I don't think anyone would have believed me if I'd been alone."
Equally awed, Ralph said, "It looked like a big dog. I'm amazed you saw it."
"Me too," I admitted. "I still can't believe, after 21 years living here, we actually saw a bear! That's so incredible! I wonder when we'll see it again."
My elation didn't abate. I uploaded the picture I took soon after we got home and left an excited message on my daughter's voice mail. My natural high remained throughout the night and following day. It wasn't until about 24 hours after spotting the bear that my euphoria took a nosedive, settling into sorrowful despair.
On the Lake Sentinel's Facebook page, I read the following post:
"A bear was struck and killed on U.S. Highway 27 between Clermont and Leesburg sometime between Thursday night (July 5) and Friday morning (July 6), a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman confirmed Friday.
The bear was about 3 years old and weighed between 250 and 300 pounds, FWC spokeswoman Joy Hill confirmed. The agency does not know the details of the crash, but sent a crew out to collect the body…"
Although I have no way of confirming that the bear was the same one Ralph and I saw Thursday evening, it probably was. I live close to the reported area and, sadly, the timing was spot on. Black bears are solitary, reclusive creatures most active during dawn and dusk. They range over dozens of square miles in search of the berries, nuts, roots and insects that make up 80 percent of their diet.
The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that a 300-pound animal managed to survive at all on the limited tracts of undeveloped land in my semi-rural slice of south Lake.
Of the estimated 3,000 black bears living in Florida, most occupy eight distinct areas, none of which includes my neighborhood. Late last month, the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) was removed from the state's threatened species list because its numbers have increased dramatically in recent decades. Intentional killing of it is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine. However, the majority of deaths are the result of traffic accidents like the one that took place on U.S. 27 the other night.
The possibility of seeing another black bear along our quiet country lane is slim but nature, as I was recently reminded, is full of surprises. I walked out to the mailbox expecting nothing more than a bit of exercise and a stack of bills. I returned home with a memory that will last forever.
An excellent 15-minute video about Florida black bears can be seen at myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear
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