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PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is investigating the killing by sheriff’s deputies of a black bear that wandered into a residential neighborhood in Palm Beach County over the weekend.
Black bear sightings are not uncommon in parts of Florida, and FWC wants to determine why deputies chose to shoot a young 6-foot, 300-pound black bear instead of having it tranquilized or trapped so it could be moved to a 700-acre nature preserve only blocks away.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, in a released statement, said the bear was killed for the sake of keeping neighborhood residents safe and traffic concerns, and that they “had no choice but to shoot it.”
“A report will be available soon, hopefully by the end of the week,” FWC spokesperson Arielle Callender told the Epoch Times.
She provided The Epoch Times with a written statement about the events that unfolded, according to FWC.
“Over the last week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has received reports of black bear sightings in Northern Palm Beach County. On the morning of June 18, FWC officers responded to a black bear in a tree in a Royal Palm Beach neighborhood,” she wrote. “FWC Law Enforcement officers consulted with FWC biologists and remained on-scene to monitor the situation.”
“Palm Beach County Sheriff deputies joined FWC officers at the scene,” the statement continued. “After the bear climbed down from the tree, the bear was shot and killed by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies. The incident is currently under review.”
A neighborhood resident who witnessed the incident told reporters that she had looked out her window, saw the bear on her patio, and called authorities.
“The worries were simply just keeping my family safe and alerting my neighbors to stay inside,” Sarah Loredo said. “The sheriff’s office did a great job of being on-site and keeping everyone calm.”
The bear left her property and walked towards a tree, where it was eventually shot.
The June 18 incident, according to reports, began at 8 a.m. and ended around 12:25 p.m. with the shooting of the bear after failed efforts of tracking it with foot patrols and drones, along with FWC officers using conventional methods of making a lot of noise to get the bear to move on.
The bear had positioned itself 50 feet up a pine tree as deputies waited below for FWC trappers to arrive and subsequently tranquilize the bear—but trappers did not arrive in time, according to a PBSO report. FWC told police they were not waiting on trappers at all.
That is where the agencies’ accounts conflict and why an investigation is warranted.
Some residents were upset with the outcome and looking for answers.
“Why was it necessary to kill a helpless bear that (was) up in a tree that was no threat at that time?” Maria Young, a neighbor told reporters. “We have Lion Country Safari. You have FWC. You have Palm Beach Zoo. You (have) many vets out here. Why could they not find a dart, to go ahead and tranquilize it with? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Callender explained the agency’s policy on tranquilizing bears.
“The FWC does not typically use tranquilizers on bears. Of the 5,000 to 6,000 bear-related calls the FWC receives each year, on average approximately two percent require a trapping effort, and even fewer call for tranquilizing the bear when the bear is not inside the cage style trap,” Callender said. “In the rare instance free-range tranquilizing is required, the time it takes to have them on-site depends on a variety of factors. The FWC has a select trained and licensed staff, both biologists and Law Enforcement, who have access to tranquilizers and these staff are located throughout the state.”
Young said she has lived in areas where she maintained she has witnessed FWC using tranquilizers in the past.
“Living up in a community in North Florida, with bears that roam all day long, we had to call somebody. I never saw one killed. If they had to tranquilize it, they tranquilize it,” Young said.
Young said she is “devastated” by the outcome and wants answers.
“I want to know because it’s animal cruelty. This is a helpless bear.”
FWC’s website estimates there are a little over 4,000 black bears in Florida. Breeding season usually runs from June to August and the cubs are born around late January and early February. Bears, as reported on the website are “excellent climbers” and will often climb trees “when they are frightened.”
Black bears are naturally curious and they will sniff and stand up on their hind legs to “get a better view and smell their surroundings,” the FWC said, noting that this is not a sign of aggression. The black bear was considered a threatened species from 1974 until 2012, when it was taken off the list because it was thought the species had “recovered.”
FWC encourages the public to call its hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) if they observe a sick, injured, dead or orphaned bear; and report anyone who is seen harming bears or intentionally feeding them.