Bear Demographics and Doughnuts

by Walter McCown

Male 702 recovers in a shady spot after a work-up by FWRI bear researchers.

Despite occupying the greatest geographic area of any subpopulation in Florida, little is known about bears that live in the eastern panhandle of Florida. In May, 2016 FWRI bear researchers began efforts to develop a demographic profile of bears in the Apalachicola subpopulation.  We are placing satellite collars on adult female bears to establish their survival rates, the age of first reproduction, the number of cubs produced and the number of years between litters.  Additionally, in spring 2017, we will be collaring cubs to document their survival rate.  This data will be used to build a population model in order to estimate the growth rate of this population.

FWRI bear researcher Don Hardeman Jr, UF student and FWRI intern Jay Morgan, and technician Hannah Manninen take body measurements as part of the work-up of Male 702.

We trap bears in summer because it is their mating season and bears are active but because there’s not a lot to eat they respond to potential food sources. To attract bears for capture we take advantage of their ability to detect smells from great distances (a mile or more) by using a commercial scent lure that smells like raspberry doughnuts.  At the trap site we use Krispy Kreme doughnuts adjacent to a foot snare to entice bears to step in the snare and activate a trigger buried in a shallow hole. Once trapped, a chemical restraint is administered remotely by dart.  After the drug takes effect, we are able to safely handle bears for about an hour; enough time to take measurements, biological samples, place ear tags and lip tattoos on each bear and collars on females.

From June through early August we captured 40 bears (24M: 16F) in Tate’s Hell State Forest which lies just south of Apalachicola National Forest. Females were fitted with GPS collars programmed to report their locations every 2 hours. If the collar does not move for 24 hours an email alert is sent, as would be the case if the bear was dead or the collar had dropped off.