Born free

Bear cub brothers released to wild at Camp Blanding


CAMP BLANDING – A pair of black bear cub brothers will call the Ocala-to-Osceola wildlife corridor home after they were released back into the wild last week at Camp Blanding.

The two cubs were recently found in Leesburg, a city an hour northwest of Orlando, wandering around a suburban neighborhood. They weren’t doing any damage but they were clearly out of place. The Florida Wildlife Commission worked quickly to safely capture the bears and after a bout of rehabilitation, the siblings were released back into the wild on Jan. 16.

“This is a great day for these cubs,” FWC Public Information Officer Karen Parker said. “They’re back in the wild where they can continue to live a healthy life.”

Parker, other FWC officers and researchers and a handful of Camp Blanding personnel gathered down a dirt road off the intersection of State Road 21 and Dade Road to see the two bears off and into the wilderness of the O2O wildlife corridor that will ideally forever be their home.

It was quite the spectacle, too.

The two bears were clearly ready to get away from humans. Any person that got too close to their cage was met with a sharp hissing sound that’s referred to as huffing. It sounds like a hissing growl followed by a jaw snap. The FWC biologist on the scene, Mike Orlando, said that noise is a good noise because it means the bears are in a defensive mode around the humans surrounding them.

“Them being on the defense around us encourages them to quickly get away from us when they’re released and that’s what we ultimately want,” Orlando said.

The bears were clearly ready to get back into the wild because once their cages were opened, they sprinted into the safety of the forest. They were out of sight in a matter of seconds.

The brothers went opposite ways, one opting to go left and the other opting to go right, but Orlando said their primary concern after getting out of the cage was getting away from the people. After everyone left, it’s likely the cubs will try to find each other, Orlando said.

People needed to get far away too because, according to Orlando, bears can smell scents from an estimated 10 miles away.

“Until we’re gone, they won’t truly let their guard down,” Orlando said.

When the brothers were found in Leesburg, they were in great health but they still needed to go into rehabilitation, Parker said. The bears were weighed and confirmed good to go before being transported to Clay County.

Camp Blanding Commander Col. Frank Zenko said the camp has a long history with wildlife releases.

“We’re part of the O2O so we do a lot of stuff like this with FWC,” Zenko said. “It’s very common.”

Zenko said Camp Blanding has received awards for their wildlife and environmental work. It won an environmental conservation award in 2015 and in 2016, it received first place in environmental conservation work by the Department of Defense, which takes into account all military bases and installations around the world.

“It’s a huge part of what we do here in Camp Blanding and we put a lot of effort into our work in the corridor surrounding us,” Zenko said.

Zenko said he’s excited about the two Black Bear cubs that will call the Camp Blanding area home.

“It’s an exciting day for us,” Zenko said. “This is one of the things we do at Camp Blanding and if you look around at all of these people, this is a team that got two cubs back into the wilderness where they belong. It’s always exciting to do things like this.”


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