NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. - It was a wild scene Wednesday in a North Fort Myers neighborhood as a black bear ran, feet away from homes.
Wildlife officers tranquilized the animal before taking it away to safety. Neighbors on Evergreen Road watched the whole thing. It's no surprise, bears are our neighbors in Florida. There are thousands of them. But, with more frequent nuisance calls, Florida Fish and Wildlife wants to know if the population is getting bigger.
Corrine Grgurich was driving down Evergreen Road in Wednesday when a back bear made her do a double-take. "I thought I was seeing things at first," Grgurich said. "I'm looking at it like this and thought, boy that's something to see."
She hopped out of her car and started warning neighbors. "I tell them, I don't want to alarm you but there is a bear loose up here," Grgurich said. "I just saw him run across the highway."
"I thought, wow, exciting," neighbor Ella Davico said.
People waited anxiously for wildlife officers to tranquilize the bear, believed to be the same one spotted Monday in Cape Coral. "I heard the gunshot so I knew, I figured they'd gotten it," Davico said.
Then, officers allowed them back to get an up-close look. "I realized it was a small bear, wasn't that big, not as big as everyone thought it was," Davico said. "It was exciting. It really was."
A black bear sighting in Florida is not unusual. FWC estimates about 3,000 living in the state. Problem is, that data is 12 years old.
"The frequency of phone calls, frequency of sightings, we feel as if there are a lot more," said Greg Workman, Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesman.
To better manage the population, they're doing a statewide survey. FWC is setting up hundreds of counting stations. Bears will squeeze through strands of barbed wire to reach the bait inside, usually donuts, a bear favorite.
Researchers will later DNA-test the hair caught in the snares. More hair could indicate more bears or reveal if the same bear keeps returning.
"We want to know the areas we are relocating these bears to, that we're not over-saturating the area, we want to make sure that there's still capacity left," Workman said. "If not, then we really need to research and find other areas to relocate the bear."
Wildlife officials say the wire won't hurt the bears. They hope to have the new data by next summer. As for the bear caught in North Fort Myers, FWC tells us it traveled all the way from Highlands County. That's where they plan to return it.