Sanibel’s most wanted fugitive is still at large.
Last Thursday, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists set a trap to catch a Florida black bear that had taken up residence on the island sometime in June; as of Wednesday, the bear had not taken the bait.
The first evidence of the island’s first documented bear was a photograph taken June 27 by a motion-activated infrared camera on the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Bailey Tract.
Wildlife officials decided to capture and relocate the male bear, which is believed to be about 1.5 years old and to weigh 60 to 80 pounds, because it raided a beekeeper’s beehives last week.
“It was a joint decision by FWC biologists, our staff and city staff that, for the safety of the bear, it would be better off relocated somewhere else,” Ding Darling biologist Tara Wertz said.
“Once a bear starts getting into trouble, all of a sudden, this innocent animal becomes a problem animal.”
Although Ding Darling staff received 15 citizen reports about the bear in July, last week’s raid on the beehives has been the animal’s only nuisance behavior.
Bears on barrier islands are not uncommon, said Mike Orlando, FWC’s assistant bear program coordinator. They are good swimmers and often travel to barrier islands in search of food, particularly berries.
What is uncommon is for a bear to pick a populated barrier island such as Sanibel.
When the bear arrived on Sanibel in June, wildlife officials decided not to trap and relocate it.
“The general policy is, if the bear got itself there, it’s better at getting itself out of there than we are,” Orlando said. “We have to catch it, drug it, relocate it. That’s time-intensive and expensive. Most times, a bear will leave on its own with little fanfare.”
Trapping a bear costs about $800 a week in wages — this includes travel time, meetings and time checking the trap — and relocation costs vary depending on how far away the relocation site is, Wertz said.
While Orlando wasn’t surprised that the bear showed up on Sanibel, he was surprised that it has stayed this long because the island doesn’t provide much natural food for a bear.
Another thing that didn’t surprise Orlando was that the bear’s first foray into a human-related food source was beehives.
But, contrary to popular belief, honey is not a bear’s objective in a beehive.
Not after honey
“Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, it’s like Winnie the Pooh,’” Orlando said. “But bears go for the bees and larvae. Those provide a lot of protein. The honey is the icing on the cake.”
Wildlife officials will not reveal the location of the trap or what it’s baited with. If island residents know what makes good bait, they might try to attract the bear themselves.
If the bear is not captured today, wildlife officials will try to lure it to the area where the trap is, Wertz said.
“Bears are very attuned to smells,” she said. “They forage through their noses. We try to bait them with something that smells really good to bears. FWC has concocted a really smelly mixture that we’ll put high up in a tree so the odor is carried by the wind, and the bear can key in on it.”
are opportunistic feeders and look for easy meals, including garbage and pet food left outside, but bears in developed areas don’t always seek out human food Bears sources, Orlando said.
“We have bears in areas where you think, ‘Oh, gosh, something bad is going to happen,’ and then it doesn’t,” he said. “Bears are individuals. You can never tell which one is going to get into trouble.
“Now that this one has caused mischief, it’s our responsibility to relocate him. That
said, it’s never a sure thing we’ll end up catching him.”