Central Florida Zoo habitat to explore how humans, bears can coexist

By Bailey Myers, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, April 21, 2016, 11:33 AM EDT

As another bear hunting season approaches, the Central Florida Zoo on Thursday broke ground on new bear habitat that features lush trees, green grass — and a human home.

  • Central Florida Zoo habitat to put mock human home among bears
  • Zoo wants to educate visitors on how to coexist with bears
  • 3 bears that cannot be reintroduced to wild to live in habitat

The mock home will be staged as though the three bears living in the habitat are on the outside looking in.

With the home at the entrance to the new habitat, zoo officials hope to create a space where visitors will be able to learn how black bears may be drawn to human habitats. The zoo also hopes to reduce fear of black bears and educate the community on how to coexist with them without endangering people.

A growing population of black bears in Florida have acclimated to urban areas, such as garbage, backyards and homes. In 2014, a woman was mauled by a bear in her own garage, one of three serious attacks in the past few years. And just a few months ago, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission launched its first bear hunt in two decades.

“We wanted to put a habitat here at the zoo that helps residents learn how to live and coexist with black bears and specifically preventing food access — preventing trash from getting to them,” said Stephanie Williams, Director of Education at the Central Florida Zoo.

The mock human home will have a garage that's equipped with interactive exhibits to demonstrate the little things visitors can do to their lifestyle to prevent bears from being drawn to their homes. Some tips are as simple as cleaning your grill before leaving it for the night.

"We want people to understand these animals, and if we encounter these wild animals, what steps we can take to keep ourselves safe," Williams said.

The bears that will call the new exhibit home cannot be reintroduced into the wild because they're now dependent on humans. Two were treated like pets before being rescued.

The zoo expects the new habitat to be complete in the next six months.