Jarhead: The little bear that beat the odds

August 15, 2010

Jarhead and a sibling elude biologists trying to capture it. Photo courtesy FWC

Black bear cub in Marion County recovers from sticky situation

It took 10 days for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists to catch a black bear cub in Marion County that was days away from death. They were ultimately successful, but it took extraordinary efforts from both FWC employees and local residents working together.

The 6-month-old cub, its two siblings and mother were regular visitors to unsecured trash containers in a small community near Weirsdale, in the Ocala National Forest. One day in late July, FWC dispatch got a call from one of the residents concerned about a cub running around with a clear, industrial-size plastic jar stuck on its head. The jar made it almost impossible for the cub to eat or drink.

The FWC’s Mike Orlando, Brian Scheick and Cathy Connolly, and Mike Connolly, a bear-response agent for the agency, knew that if they didn’t catch the cub, affectionately dubbed “Jarhead,” it would die, so they developed a plan to trap it.
“It was a lot easier said than done,” Orlando said. “The residents were really great about calling us when they saw the bears, but it seemed like we were always about 20 minutes behind.”

Jarhead scampers behind its mother back to the woods after biologists released them from an overnight stay in the trap. Photo courtesy FWC

The team set traps in different areas, hoping to catch the mother and tranquilize her, which would then allow them to catch the cubs.  Unfortunately, the good mother bear refused to be tricked by the baited trap.

After eight days of sightings, two days went by when nobody saw the bear family. The team feared the cub may have finally succumbed to his condition.  Ironically, the day the team resigned to pull the traps and head home, Orlando got a call from FWC dispatch.  A resident had called to report the bear family was back. The team rushed back to the community.

Orlando found the mother and was able to shoot her with a tranquilizer dart. Then Orlando and Scheick literally caught the cubs by surprise and managed to grab Jarhead. But the tough little bear lived up to its U.S. Marine moniker and did not give up without a fight.

Eventually, they subdued the cub long enough to get the jar off its head, and then let it go to rejoin its siblings. The team, with the help of some concerned residents, placed the mother bear’s sleeping body in a trap, and eventually the cubs joined her.
After observing the family overnight in the trap, and making sure it was able to nurse, biologists released the family in a nearby, less populated area.

Although the story appears to have a happy ending, it truly illustrates one of the worst things that can happen when wildlife gets into garbage.

To date, the FWC has not gotten any further reports of the bear family. And that’s good news indeed.