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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
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Tranquilizer dart end bear’s Tampa adventure

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TAMPA -

Florida wildlife officials don’t name wayward bears, but if they did, the young black bear that ran up a tree in Egypt Lake on Friday might be called “The Wanderer.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials say the male bear, estimated to be 2 to 3 years old, traveled clear through three counties and parts of two others before ending up in Eloy Perez’ backyard north of Egypt Lake at 2817 W. Broad St.

There, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers shot two tranquilizer darts into the bear’s rear haunch and waited for him to drop about 20 feet from an oak tree branch. Eight wildlife officers and sheriff’s deputies broke the bear’s fall with a thick, blue tarp.

The bear had to be tranquilized again on the ground.

“We had to put some more in him because the bear wasn’t completely out,” said Gary Morse, spokesman for Fish and Wildlife. “After the two darts he was still able to move his head and was trying to roll over.”

The officers carried the prone bear in the tarp to the street and struggled to push and pull him into a cylindrical metal container on wheels. At about 5 p.m., the bear was released into the 400,000-acre Ocala National Forest, his home before he started traveling south.

Wildlife officials think the bear originally hailed from the Black Bear Wilderness Area north of Orlando. He left there and was sighted last June on Interstate 4 in downtown Orlando. Officers darted the bear then, put a red tag on his ear, and took him to the Ocala National Forest. The tag indicated the region where he was released.

Bears are natural wanderers and need a habitat of about 75 square miles, said Vernon Yates, founder of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Seminole. As the state grows more urban and population rises, areas where bear populations can live safely have shrunk.

In the 1970s, Florida’s black bear population stood at just 300 animals and the state listed the species as threatened. There are now more than 3,000 bears statewide and the species is no longer threatened.

Bear sightings are fairly common in the Orlando and Naples areas but relatively rare in the Tampa area because no large black bear populations are nearby, Yates said. Six or seven years ago, Yates said, he helped Fish and Wildlife move a bear found in a Temple Terrace dumpster to the Green Swamp.

“Young males usually get pushed out and have to find new territories to live in,” Yates said. “It becomes very detrimental for them if they move. The biggest killer of bears is cars.”

Morse of the Fish and Wildlife agreed the bear could have been chased out of the forest by older members of his species. He might also have been looking for a mate.

It’s unlikely, however, the 300-pound bear went searching for food: When he was trapped in June, he weighed just 150 pounds.

“He’s obviously in excellent shape and he’s had plenty of food, so he’s not wanting,” Morse said.

The bear likely traveled at night to avoid people, Morse said. Fish and Wildlife officials think he moved south through Citrus County and was spotted by people in the Spring Hill area of Hernando County and in north Hillsborough around Lutz.

“This bear’s behavior is pretty good around people,” Morse said, explaining there was no reason to euthanize him. “It’s just being a bear and looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Friday morning before 7 a.m., the 70-year-old Perez was letting his dog Summer out the back door. The dog started barking at something large and black.

Perez at first thought the animal might be a wild hog. When he realized it was a bear, he called 911. The bear scampered up a moss-draped live oak when he saw deputies arrive.

“I ain’t ever seen anything that quick,” Perez said. “That bear ran up that tree like a squirrel.”

Neighbors say there were indications the bear was in the neighborhood overnight. Larry Manganello’s poodle acted erratically throughout the night, running around the bed, even jumping on Manganello’s head as he lay in bed.

“He was letting us know something was out there,” Manganello said.

He and the poodle didn’t go looking around outside, and it’s a good thing.

“He might have been hungry and ate my little dog,” Manganello said.

The small residential street where Perez lives was crowded with onlookers and news crews. Neighbors said the bear’s visit was the most exciting thing they can remember happening there.

“Why is it in our neighborhood? How did it get here without anybody seeing it,” asked an astonished-looking Denise Manganello. “It’s not a tiny bear; it’s a big bear.”

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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