Florida Black Bears in the Everglades

Black Bear in the EvergladesDid you know Florida is home to over 2,500 bears? The Florida Black Bear, the state’s only resident bear, is Florida’s largest land-based mammal. These gentle giants, ranging from 125-450 pounds, live in seven isolated subpopulations from the Panhandle down to the Everglades.

Why do black bears live in the Everglades?

Florida black bears seek solace in the Everglades because it’s a protected wilderness where wildlife can live free, devoid of most human interference. Most black bears in Florida reside in protected parks where they can live their solitary, reclusive lives in peace.

Florida black bears are unique because they adapted to thrive in a subtropical habitat, something no other black bear subspecies has accomplished. They live in South Florida habitats like sand-pine scrub, hardwood forests, pine rocklands, forested sloughs and oak scrub, all of which exist in the Everglades.

The Everglades is a utopia for a Florida black bear because it’s home to plentiful plant life, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of a black bear’s diet. The sabal palmetto, a native tree in the Everglades, is just one shrub black bears dine on.

Human impact on the Florida black bear

Even with protected wildernesses like the Everglades, Ocala National Forest and Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida black bears experience habitat reduction. In fact, Florida black bears lose 20 acres of habitat an hour. At one time, each of their seven subpopulations all connected from South Florida up to the Panhandle. Now these habitats are isolated due to human development like roads, buildings, etc.

And with these new human developments come more bear deaths. Roadkill is a black bear’s primary cause of death in Florida with traffic collisions responsible for nearly 90 percent of bear deaths. On average, roughly 100 bears die per year due road-related incidents. Stay alert while driving through bear country at night as black bears are most active after sunset.

What to do if you encounter a black bear in the Everglades

While Florida has never seen a predatory black bear attack on humans, people have been injured when a bear feels the need to defend itself, its cubs or its food. It’s important to know how to react if you encounter a bear. Here are some dos and don’ts when you see a Florida black bear:

DO: back away slowly. Never turn your back to a bear. Move slowly backward in the way you came, holding your hands up in retreat. Remember not to make eye contact with the bear, as they often associate this with an act of aggression.

DON’T: run away or climb a tree. Black bears can run faster than you and climb better than you. If you run, they’ll likely perceive you as a threat, or possibly as prey, and chase you – at 30 miles per hour. Florida black bears can climb as high as 100 feet in a minute flat, so keep to lower ground.

DO: make noise. First try blasting a whistle or banging equipment together. Often, this will scare a bear away. If the bear doesn’t leave, speak to it calmly. Even though it can’t understand what you’re saying, it can perceive your tone.

DON’T: feed the bear. The last thing you want is for a bear to associate you with food. Feeding a bear will not only desensitize a bear to you but to all humans. This is one of the main reasons bears become aggressive, which ultimately results in their euthanization.

See Everglades wildlife by airboat

For a chance to see the Florida black bear and other Everglades wildlife, reserve an airboat tour. Everglades airboat tours expose you to the most dynamic flora and fauna the region has to offer. To book your Everglades airboat tour today, click here or call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.