New interactive bear habitat coming to Central Florida Zoo

By Allison Walker, Entertainment Reporter/Anchor
Last Updated: Friday, July 31, 2015, 8:12 AM EDT

With the number of Florida black bear sightings across Central Florida on the rise, especially near houses, the Central Florida Zoo is building a brand new Bear Habitat designed to teach you how to protect your family and pets.

Black bears are making their way into our homes more than ever before. Here's one who got into a homeowner's screened-in pool in Longwood in March.


(David Bentley, Viewer)

Here's another roaming outside a school in Daytona Beach.


(Father Lopez High School)

"There not stupid animals," said Christian Ortiz, visiting the zoo from Chicago. "They're really smart, so they'll find their way to get anything."

Black bears are no long endangered, so we can all get smarter about not attracting them to our home.

"Over 3,000 in the state of Florida, with the highest concentration right here in Central Florida," said Stephanie Williams, director of education at the Central Florida Zoo.

The zoo's future Bear Habitat exhibit will replicate a conventional Florida home pressed up against a bear's natural habitat. Newly obtained concept art of the exhibit shows guests walking through a house, which the Central Florida Zoo will make look like a biologist lives there.


(Central Florida Zoo)


(Central Florida Zoo)


(Central Florida Zoo)

The mock home's garage is the exhibit's main focus.

"Bears go into garages in search of food, because of the garbage," Williams explained.

The lesson here: Make locking your garage a habit. Bears can pick up on pet food and even a refrigerator, if you have one in your garage.

You can also get a bear-proof trash can or storage container.

Another tip from Williams: "People don't think about cleaning their grills. When you grill out, you leave different residues and smells."


(Allison Walker, Staff)

The Bear Habitat will also have other creatures native to Florida, like Amelia the opossum, and some alligators. The bears aren't there yet, but the Central Florida Zoo hopes to have them break into their new home by the end of 2015.

Meanwhile, bear hunting is now legal in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ended a 21-year ban, and a seven-day hunt will take place Oct. 24–30.

How to keep bears away from your home

  • Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
  • Put household garbage out on morning of pickup rather than the night before.
  • Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
  • Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
  • Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods that attract wildlife secure.
  • Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
  • Clean grills and store them in a locked, secure place.
  • Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.
  • Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground. Bears love fruit!
  • Screened enclosures are not secure and will not keep out bears.

What to do if you if you come face-to-face with a black bear

"They don't want to be near you," Williams explained. "They want to make sure that they can get away, so you don't want to corner the bear."

If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.
 
Do NOT feed or intentionally attract bears. If a bear eats something on your property, take note of what it is and secure it once the bear leaves.
 
NEVER approach or surprise a bear. If you see a bear from a distance, enjoy the experience, but do not move toward the bear. If you are close, do not make any sudden or abrupt movements. Back way slowly and be sure the bear has an obvious escape route.
 
If you are in your yard:

  • Make sure that you are in a safe area and that the bear has a clear escape route. Then, make noise or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away.
  • Do NOT turn your back, play dead, climb a tree or run. Back away slowly into the house or secure area.
  • Avoid direct eye contact. Bears and many other animals may view this as aggressive behavior.
  • Report any bear that is threatening the safety of humans, pets or livestock, or causing property damage to the FWC.