VIDEO: Wandering bears have Lake Wales residents on edge

LAKE WALES, Fla. (WFLA) – People living in one Polk County community are on high alert after several recent bear sightings.

The bears have been spotted primarily in Lake Wales. Residents in Babson Park reported several sighting earlier this week. Yesterday, employees behind the tax collector’s office in Lake Wales saw a bear behind the building.

“You’re kind of leery in the mornings when you pull up here, and now everyone kind of stops and looks around and makes sure the bear isn’t here before they get out of their cars,” said Sherry

Baker, a manager at the Polk County Tax Collector’s Office.


“I think it’s pretty awesome. Although I’m beginning to think the bears in Florida are not afraid of humans anymore.”

The tax collector’s office showed News Channel 8 surveillance footage of the bear roaming the parking lot.

Sgt. Bill Raebig responded to the area. “I have never seen anything like this in my 34 years of my career,” said Sgt. Raebig. He called the Florida

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who also responded.

“They got out a bean bag to scare it off, but it was already starting to walk away,” said Sgt. Raebig. “We’re surrounded by a lot of wooded area, and that’s their territory. So, as long as the bear wasn’t a threat to anybody, which it wasn’t, they just wander off. They are basically just scavengers and he was just looking for food.”

According to FWC, the native black bear is the only species of bear found in Florida. The FWC estimates there are approximately 4,350 black bears statewide. Bears are driven by their stomachs.

The best way to keep them away is by not feeding them. Bears are attracted to neighborhoods that allow access to food sources – such as garbage, pet food and birdseed – and will quickly learn to associate homes and businesses with getting an easy meal.

Black bears are shy animals and generally not aggressive towards people. When bears are frightened they run away or climb a tree. If a bear is in a tree in your neighborhood, it is either feeding or trying to escape danger. Keep people and pets away, and the bear will come down and leave on its own when it feels safe, usually after dark.

When a bear stands on its hind legs, it is only trying to get a better view or scent, rather than acting in a threatening manner. If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright with arms raised, back up slowly and speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice.

FWC offers the following safety tips if a bear comes into your yard-

  • Make sure you are in a safe area Make sure that the bear has a clear escape route
  • Scare the bear away.
  • You want to let the bear know it is not welcome on your yard.
  • So, from a safe location, scare it away by banging on pots and pans, using an air horn, or anything else that makes a lot of noise. Learn more here.

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