In Jupiter, this bear encounter has a happy ending
Updated: Jul 23
DOUG COVIN OF Jupiter was standing at the base of a 50-ft. strangler fig in his backyard Saturday morning when he heard the crack of a falling branch.
Less than 10 feet from him, a Florida black bear was hanging out in the branches just above his head. But at first, Covin had a hard time believing what he was seeing.
“I look up and I’m like, ‘What am I looking at?’ It was like my mind couldn't figure out what I was looking at,’’ he recalled.
“It wasn't even way up in the tree. It was right there staring at me. I was looking right in its eyes. ‘That’s a bear! Why am I looking at a bear?’’
Covin backed away and, as he fumbled for his phone to take a photo, the bear retreated five more feet up the tree.
When he called 911 around 11:40 a.m. and said “There’s a bear in a tree in my yard,’’ he said the dispatcher sounded skeptical. So did the first Jupiter police officer who arrived at his home on April Lane, just north of Center Street and south of the Loxahatchee River.
“So where is this bear?” the officer said.
“It’s right there!”
When the 150-pound animal came into view, Covin said, the officer grabbed his radio: ‘’No, it really is a bear!’’
Soon, he said, a dozen police officers were on scene, including a lieutenant who told Covin, “I had to see this for myself.’’
A biologist from Busch Wildlife showed up, too, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has jurisdiction over wild animals in the state.
The bear scampered into a neighbor’s yard and climbed a slash pine. Covin said FWC officers were able to coax the bear down and shoo it toward the riverbank where it was allowed to roam toward wilderness areas.
"In this case, the bear has been in the general area for multiple days but has not found its way out. The FWC set a trap in an effort to relocate the bear to a more remote area,'' said FWC spokesperson Arielle Callender.
"During this time of year, bears are more active,'' she said. "Juvenile bears are starting to disperse from their mothers and may be seen in unexpected areas as they make their away to other habitats and typically move away on their own.''
The FWC officers told Covin it was a young male that might have wandered away from the Corbett Wildlife Area west of Jupiter. “If that’s the case, “somehow it got past (Interstate) 95 and the (Florida’s) Turnpike,’’ he said.
It was the latest sighting of a black bear in or near Palm Beach County this year. Other sightings were in Stuart, Palm City, Jupiter Farms and Royal Palm Beach.
The bear in Royal Palm Beach wandered into a residential neighborhood on June 18. It was shot and killed by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies who ignored FWC’s orders to let the bear roam away on its own. That bear was not posing a threat to anyone, the FWC said.
The bear in Jupiter on Saturday wasn’t bothering anyone, said Covin, who took several photographs, including the one at the top of this story.
“He wasn’t growling or anything. He was just panting, with his tongue out,’’ he said.
Covin, who said he didn’t know about the Royal Palm Beach incident, said he was happy when FWC officers told him the bear had safely wandered off by early afternoon.
Thanks to conservation efforts that helped the bear population rebound from a low of about 300 in the 1970s, an estimated 4,000 Florida black bears occupy 49 percent of their historic range today.
But as more people continue moving to Florida, the nation’s third-largest state by population, human conflict with wildlife is inevitable. The FWC receives up to 6,000 calls a year related to black bears, whose adaptive nature allows them to live in different environments, including residential areas.
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020.View all posts by Joe Capozzi.