Yes, We Have Bears In Florida!
Before settlement by the early Europeans, Florida black bears occupied all of the Florida mainland, including some coastal islands and larger keys.
By the mid 1970’s, bear range decreased to 18% of its historic range, with bear populations remaining in several core areas of large public lands.
Today, bears have re-occupied 49% of their historic range.
Florida black bear range can be divided the state into 4 categories based on the locations of data collected by bear researchers, managers, as well as the public, which include calls for assistance, research and management captures, vehicle strikes, sightings, and research locations. Each category measures how frequently bears occur in the area:
-Abundant areas are those with the highest density of bear locations, indicating bears are spending a considerable amount of time in these areas. These areas are the core of the bear population where evidence of reproduction is consistent.
-Common areas have the second highest density of bear locations, and these areas are where bears are spreading from their core areas and spending a fair amount of their time.
-Occasional areas are parts of the state where bears occur irregularly, but their presence is not unexpected given its proximity to Abundant and Common areas.
-Because bears have been seen in nearly every part of Florida at some point, we categorized the rest of Florida as Rare areas.
While bears can be found almost anywhere in Florida, they prefer a mixture of flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges, bayheads and hammock habitats. The area they inhabit in search of food, water, and adequate cover is called a home range.
FWC encourages you to explore recent data on bears killed by vehicle strikes (roadkill), bear captures, and collared bears area in an interactive map to learn about where bears can be found in Florida.
While wild bears are found in almost half of the state, due to their natural wariness of people and preference for dense understory they can be hard to see. Another alternative way to see them would be to visit your local zoological institution. Here is a list of several Florida zoos regularly open to the public that are home to American black bears:
- Brevard Zoo (Melbourne, FL)
- Busch Wildlife Sanctuary (Jupiter, FL)
- Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens (Lake Monroe, FL)
- Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (Homosassa, FL)
- Gulf Breeze Zoo (Gulf Breeze, FL)
- Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (Jacksonville, FL)
- Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens (Naples, FL)
- Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society (West Palm Beach, FL)
- Tallahassee Museum (Tallahassee, FL)
- ZooTampa at Lowry Park (Tampa, FL)