Florida’s once-threatened black bear was hunted en masse this weekend during a planned seven-day, state-sponsored hunt. But it was stopped early because hunters killed so many.
In two days, hunters shot and killed 300 bears in Florida, the quota for the week-long hunt, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The limit for the entire hunt was 320 bears and 295 ended up being killed: 139 in Central Florida, 112 in the eastern Panhandle, 23 in the northern region, and 21 in the southern region.
“[The conservation agency] took a conservative approach to setting harvest objectives, building in buffers so the number of bears harvested will stabilize growing populations while ensuring healthy bear numbers,” said Tammy Sapp, a spokeswoman with the Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
This is the first time bear hunting has been held in Florida since 1994. Only three years ago, the bear was considered a threatened species because of hunting; their numbers tanked to only a few hundred by the 1970s, the Associated Press added.
Though no one has actually counted Florida’s bear population since 2002, officials believe they currently number 3,500. Though the huge success of the bear hunt suggests that estimate may be low.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officials said the hunt was organized to curb the bear population, which is threatening public safety.
That fact is true. According to Bay News 9, many people have been attacked and pets killed by bears in recent years in Florida. In April 2014, two women were attacked by a bear, and in December, a woman walking her dog was bitten in the arm. This year, a family said their dog was killed by one of the animals, and two weeks ago, a bear killed a small dog and attacked its owner.
One hunter, responsible for the first kill five minutes in the hunt, described his philosophy.
“I view animals as beast and burden, and food, and other people view them as pets. And we view things differently.”
Florida sold hunting permits to local and out of state hunters — $100 for locals and $300 for outsiders — and so ended up earning a pretty penny from the bear hunt: $376,000. This money will be used to fund initiatives to reduce human interaction with bears, aiming at trash management.
And there were ground rules in Florida’s bear hunt: hunters were told not to kill cubs (one person was cited for breaking that rule), bait them (another one was cited for doing this as well), or to shoot a bear who clearly has cubs.
“We have bears that haven’t been hunted in 21-plus years here in Florida so they’re relatively naive,” said wildlife biologist Thomas Eason. “I also think we had a lot of hunters who went out and did a lot of scouting and were ready… [But] we knew there were going to be some [orphaned] in the harvest.”
Understandably, animal activists are outraged with the bear hunt and called it cruel, including protester Bruce Sowden.
“If you’ve ever watched a bear get shot, it’s not a pretty sight. I’m just totally against this hunt.”
One activist group called Speak Up Wekiva stuck around one of the check-in stations, where hunters were required to check in their bear kills every 12 hours during the hunt and noted that many of the dead animals were lactating females — another rule violation.
The group’s organizer, Chuck O’Neal, said Florida’s bear hunt will have a greater impact beyond these two days: wounded bears who die alone in the woods, those were killed by not reported, and cubs left to starve and possibly die alone.
“The real raw fact of the matter of losing these bears is devastating to many of us in the community,” said Emily Ruff of the Florida School of Holistic Living, who participated in a vigil during the bear hunt. “Our primary concern is to honor and pay respects to the wildlife that’s been lost in this hunt… I feel in large part the public feels betrayed by the state for allowing this to take place.”
[Image via Vacclav /Shutterstock]