Residents call for change after mama bear shot, killed in Florida neighborhood; 2 cubs safely relocated

A Florida black bear known to walk around a neighborhood in Sanford with her two young cubs was shot and killed over the weekend, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  

That mother bear was ultimately euthanized due to the severity of the injuries, a spokesperson for FWC said. Her two orphaned bear cubs went missing for several days but have since been located and are now healthy and safe. FWC said the cubs were taken by its bear management staff to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which is about 90 minutes west of downtown Orlando, where they'll be rehabilitated.

Neighbors told FOX 35 that a homeowner reportedly shot the bear to protect a dog, though the FWC was unable to confirm that. FOX 35 was unable to reach the homeowner who allegedly shot the bear.  

"I had no idea who was shot, what was shot. I had no idea," said resident Mo Brown who heard the gunfire and thought a homeowner might have been scaring off an intruder. 

The FWC said no charges or fines have been levied at this time.  The shooting happened Friday night. Surveillance video obtained by FOX 35 appeared to capture the constant sound of gunshots early Friday in the neighborhood. FOX 35 counted what appeared to be 16 gunshots in the video.

Still, neighbors said the mama bear and her cubs were known to walk around the neighborhood. 

"I’m glad the cubs are okay. We’re going to miss the mama, and I’m sure we won’t see the cubs again."

The FWC spokesperson said the bears are expected to be released back into the wild in December.

Can you kill a black bear in Florida?

In Florida, black bears are protected, and it's illegal to kill one without an FWC-issued hunting permit, a spokesperson told FOX 35. The only exception is to protect human life.

Monika Turner, who works with Save the Florida Black Bear, a nonprofit organization, said residents need to be aware that black bears are prevalent in Central Florida and to not leave garbage, bird feeders, and other attractants outside. Pet owners also need to be cautious about their pets being outdoors.

"Do your part to live in harmony with these animals," said Turner. "If you have dogs, don’t let your dogs chase and bark at the bears. Right now, a lot of these bears have their cubs."

It is similar sentiments echoed by Mike Orlando, the lead bear program manager with the FWC. He recently spoke with FOX 35 about Black bears in Florida, their livelihoods and habitats, and how humans can safely live with them.

He said there were about 4,000 to 4,500 black bears in Florida, as of the 2015 count, which is expected to be higher now. The next count will not be completed until 2025.

However, he said right now, bears are often moving around in search of food, especially cubs who are beginning to leave their mother's range and explore on their own.

He said seeing a bear is not reason for instant alarm, but said it's important for homeowners to remove food and other items that will attract bears, such as pet food, garbage, leftover food, bird seed, and cat litter.

"They are here, so I try to be aware and be mindful of the dogs," said Pierce. "Try to give them respect because we’re building up every inch of Seminole County and that’s where they lived and now, they have no place to go."