Are black bears dangerous?

August 1, 2011

Photo courtesy Melissa Wilder.

It is not very likely for black bears to attack people in the Deep South

From the Desk of the FWC –  By Stan Kirkland, FWC

It’s been all over the news recntly about a group of seven young teenagers on a month-long survival-skills course in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska, being attacked by a grizzly bear sow with a cub.

Immediately after the attack, the group activated a personal locator beacon, which brought Alaska state troopers and help.  Thankfully, the two young men who had the most serious injuries are recovering.

There are a lot of differences between grizzlies and black bears. Black bears are the only species of bear found in the eastern United States.  But how likely are black bears to attack someone, especially in the Deep South?

In a nutshell, the answer is not very likely.

Photo courtesy Melissa Wilder.

Although Florida’s bear population has increased from somewhere around 300 in 1974 to an estimated 3,000 animals today, Florida has never recorded a predatory, or unprovoked, black bear attack.

“The whole discussion about bears attacking people comes up any time a serious incident occurs in the U.S. or Canada.  Unprovoked black bear attacks are rare, and we fortunately have never had one in Florida,” said Dave Telesco, statewide bear management coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

However, people have been bitten or scratched by bears defending themselves, their young or food.  FWC has documented several cases where Floridians have been hurt by black bears, but the majority of those incidents resulted in minor injuries, and could have been avoided if the bear had been left alone.

“Bears are large and powerful wild animals and should be treated with respect,” Telesco said, “They are naturally afraid of people, and you don’t want to reduce their fear of you by feeding them, either intentionally or unintentionally.”

Bears are omnivores, which in laymen’s terms means they’ll eat not only such stuff as grubs, bee larvae, berries, acorns, armadillos and wild hogs, but, given a chance, they’ll also eat bird seed, dog or cat food and garbage, and on occasion they’ll go after chickens, goats and other small farm animals – even in Florida.

Telesco said homeowners who know bears are around should not make it easy for bears to find these “alternative” foods.  Garbage cans should be fitted with bear-resistant clasps or the cans stowed inside a protective bear caddy.

Telesco said some garbage service companies on the Gulf Coast are even making available bear-resistant garbage cans and dumpsters.  Electric fences are usually recommended where there’s a concern about farm animals.

“Black bears are magnificent animals, and when people see one in the wild it’s something they’ll never forget.  On the other hand, doing anything that encourages them to come around your yard or community can create problems,” he said.

In some instances, Telesco said, FWC staff must destroy bears that become used to feeding on garbage, cause property damage or kill livestock.

Information about bears is available at

    1. A friend of mine who lives in Harold posted photos of bear tracks in his driveway this week. When questioned he said the bear had been in the area for about two years. Harold is at the edge of the Blackwater State Forest, and I assume the bear has been attracted to easy food found in garbage cans, and pet food. I wouldn’t feel very comfortable going outside my home at night if I thought bears were in the area. We have had deer go through our yard, and last year a deer that had been hit by an auto expired in our yard. It was really difficult to lift him up into the truck to take him off for disposal. Later someone told me were should have notified the Fish and Wildlife, but we didn’t know that was required.

    1. Around ten o’clock in the evening while checking the mail, two amber eyes stared at me. It was a black bear and his look said ”find your own garbage can’. I think they know what day garbage day is.

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