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Two weeks, two captures for bear in Busch Gardens tree

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:37 PM
TAMPA -

A wild black bear that was nabbed in a tree at the Busch Gardens theme park on Tuesday is the same bear that was captured recently on Sanibel Island, wildlife officials say.

This is the second time in two weeks that the young male bear has been tranquilized.

Gary Morse, a spokesman from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the bear's journey began a little more than a year ago in Fort Myers, more than 130 miles south of Tampa.

The bear swam from Fort Myers over to Sanibel Island, Morse said. It lived there in a wildlife preserve for many months without a problem.

"Then as young male bears tend to do, it roamed, probably looking for a mate," said Morse.

The bear began to appear in the more populated parts of Sanibel, and on June 20 - after months of trying to capture the creature - state wildlife agents shot him with a tranquilizer gun. The agents drove the bear nearly 200 miles to the north, to a wildlife preserve in Hernando County.

"We thought we had taken him far enough north that he wouldn't want to come back south," said Morse.

But when a bear with an orange ear tag was spotted in Spring Hill - a city south of the wildlife preserve - last week, wildlife experts knew who it was.

"We'd better get prepared," Morse said at the time.

More believes the bear traveled through several wildlife corridors and parks and eventually ended up in Tampa, just north of downtown. Late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, the bear was spotted at the University of South Florida. Then, at 5 a.m., local police found the bear inside the theme park.

"He had worked his way through the property," said Morse, adding that the bear is shy and avoids people and other animals, which means he didn't come into contact with any of the park's zoo animals.

Wildlife officers again tranquilized the bear with a dart gun and loaded him into a truck. He's headed to Apalachicola, which is 270 miles north of the park. The region contains about a million acres of bear habitat in a wildlife management area, said Morse.

"He's not likely to head back this way," Morse added. "This bear is simply trying to find himself a mate and a place to live."

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