Accepted scientific name: Ursus americanus floridanus (Clinton Hart Merriam, 1896)
Description: Black with a tan muzzle and may have a white chest marking (a “blaze”). Males are up to 100 cm tall at the shoulder and commonly weigh between 115 kg and 230 kg. Females around 90 cm at the shoulder and weigh between 60 kg and 140 kg.
Range: Found in the USA in Florida, southern Georgia, and southern Alabama.
Habitat: Mainly in forested areas; common in upland hardwood forests, pine and oak scrub, and forested wetlands. As such they have historically been subjected to significant habitat loss but forest restoration and a reduction in wildfires have begun to reverse this trend.
Status: Population increasing or stable. Estimated to consist of around 3,000 individuals in Florida, 600 to 800 in Georgia and 50 to 100 in Alabama. Historically estimated to have been around 12,000 immediately prior to the arrival of Europeans and ranged throughout the state and northwards and eastwards. Within Florida the population reached a low point of around 300 in the 1970’s.
In 2010 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) adopted the IUCN Red List criteria to assess the extinction risk levels of species within the state. As a result it was established that the Florida black bear was not at high risk of extinction and it was agreed that, once a management plan was approved and in place, the bear would be removed from the state list of threatened species.
The Florida Black Bear Management Plan was approved on 27 June 2012. Bears are still protected within the state and it is illegal to kill or injure a bear and to possess or sell bear parts. Bear hunting resumed in the state in October 2015.
Life span: Males 15 to 25 years, females up to 30. Average under 20 years. The leading cause of mortality is road traffic collisions, killing between 125 and 175 animals a year.
Food: Florida black bears are omnivorous. Around eighty percent of the diet is plant-based including berries, acorns, fruit, grass, seeds, palmetto hearts and nuts. In addition the bears eat honey, insects, armadillos, white-tailed deer, racoons and wild pigs. They will also consume carrion.
Behaviour: Florida black bears go into winter dens between late December and late March but do not truly hibernate. Dens may be on the forest floor or high in trees. Pregnant females give birth in the den to between one and five cubs with two or three the norm. The cubs will remain with their mother for about one and a half years, during which time she will not become pregnant again.
Threats: Whilst the future of the Florida black bear is far more secure than in the past, habitat loss due to development is still a major threat. The leading cause of bear deaths is car accidents; from 2008 to 2012 between 125 and 175 bears were killed each year by vehicles. Conflicts between humans and bears are increasing alongside human encroachment into bear habitat and growing bear numbers, often resulting in the death of the bear.
In June 2015 state officials decided to allow bear hunting in Florida for the first time in 20 years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced that the hunt would be open in four of the seven “Bear Management Units” in the state (see map opposite). The 2015 hunt killed 304 bears before it was called off, just two days into the week-long season. There was no hunt in 2016 and it was further decided that no hunts would take place in 2017 and 2018.
Page created 16 August 2017