FWC officer recalls favorite photos

July 13, 2012

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Adam Warwick holds a 375-pound male black bear’s head above water as he guides the tranquilized animal back to shore. The bear was wandering through the Florida Panhandle beachfront neighborhood of Alligator Point and started swimming in Gulf water after being hit by the dart. FWC staff and bystanders used a borrowed backhoe to lift the uninjured animal from the water so it could be transported to the Osceola National Forest in North Central Florida and released. Photo courtesy FWC

From the FWC – Doing the unexpected
by Stan Kirkland, FWC

Many of us have our favorite photographs and remembrances of people and wildlife. Sometimes the unbelievable happens and the images are all the more unforgettable.

I’ve seen a lot of photographs over my career but my favorite is of co-worker and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wildlife biologist Adam Warwick saving a drugged 375-pound male black bear from certain drowning in the Gulf of Mexico at Alligator Point. The date was June 28, 2008.

“It was the afternoon and I hadn’t been home long when I got a call from dispatch that a bear was hanging around some homes on Alligator Point,” Warwick remembers. “This was a big bear; he’d been getting into garbage cans and was moving around in the daytime. We had moved him from Eglin Air Force Base to the (Apalachicola) National Forest and I knew he needed to be moved again.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff and bystanders load a tranquilized be into a borrowed backhoe after the animal was pulled from Gulf waters by FWC biologist Adam Warwick. The bear was roaming through the beachfront neighborhood in Alligator Point, a small community in the Florida Panhandle and wandered into the Gulf waters after being hit by a tranquilizer dart. The uninjured animal was relocated to  Osceola National Forest in North Central Florida. Photo courtesy FWC.

Rather than set a trap, Warwick said they darted the bear on the ground. Then, the unexpected happened – the bear headed to the Gulf.

“I saw him stumble and I knew he’d never make the four-mile swim to the mainland. He would have drowned,” Warwick said.

Warwick ripped his shoes and work shirt off and hit the water to get in front of the groggy bear and turn him back to land. Roughly 40 yards offshore, Warwick watched as the bear’s head went in the water, then the bruin reared up on his hind legs and then fell over backward. The immobilization drug had taken effect.

Warwick got behind the bear, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, got his head above water, and headed back to the bank with him in front of a gathering crowd.

“It was just a spur-of-the moment thing,” Warwick recalls. “I didn’t think about getting hurt. I just reacted.”

FWC Officer Travis Huckeba and a bystander approached with a boat to help but that startled the bear and they were forced to back away. Buoyed by the water, Warwick got the bear to shore. A local resident got a backhoe and they got the bear out of the water and to an FWC truck.

Later that evening, the bear was relocated to a remote area of the Osceola National Forest, near Lake City, and released.

Warwick came out of the event with some cuts to his feet from stepping on barnacle-encrusted chunks of concrete and one scratch from the bear’s claws.

When news of Warwick’s action hit the media, calls and requests for interviews poured in from around the United States, Europe and even Israel. Several women even made marriage proposals. Warwick, who is married and has a family, laughs about that part.

FWC commissioners later recognized Warwick for his heroic actions.