10 min read

38 Mothers Killed In Massive Bear Hunt, Leaving Cubs All Alone

The final count is in: An estimated 38 lactating mothers were among the 307 bears killed in Florida's first bear hunt in over 20 years. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) initially underestimated this total by a dozen bears, reporting 295 dead.

During the hunt's first day alone, on October 24, 207 bears were killed.

Lactating female bears made up 21 percent of female bears killed during the hunt, according to a report issued last Thursday. Some estimate that the death of lactating mothers could have left 100 bear cubs orphaned, even though the hunt was supposed to be timed so bear cubs would be old enough to survive on their own after their mothers were killed.

"We have cubs without mothers, taken prematurely," Chuck O'Neal, a Seminole County environmentalist, told the Sun Sentinel. "They did not finish learning what they needed to learn ... This was a horrible, horrible, horrible chapter in Florida history."

Chris Norcott

The hunt was supposed to "stabilize Florida's large, resilient and growing bear populations, as one part of FWC's overall approach to managing bears." But many opponents to the hunt pointed out that Florida doesn't even have a clear handle on how many black bears there are in the state. Until just three years ago, black bears were on Florida's imperiled species list.

Warning: Disturbing images below

"Regulations stipulated that the bear must weigh at least 100 pounds (live weight) and cubs must not be present," the report says. This stipulation is quietly listed on the FWC's hunting regulations for the bear hunt. When asked how these regulations were enforced, a representative with the FWC told The Dodo that "FWC law enforcement personnel used a variety of investigative techniques including direct observation of the violation, interviews and witness accounts."

Flickr/Florida Fish and Wildlife

Observing a violation, unfortunately, necessarily means that the violation has to happen - and it some cases this means the difference between life and death. Just eleven warnings and two misdemeanor citations, for killing a young bear and for baiting bears, were issued to hunters across the state.

The FWC also cited this passage in its recent report:

Bear populations can increase by 20 percent each year, so removing females is necessary for stabilizing population growth. Female bears, or sows, reproduce every other year and can produce 1 to 5 cubs (an average litter is 2 cubs). This means half the females in any given year will be lactating, however, numerous studies support the fact that while cubs usually stay with the female until their second summer, they are old enough (8 to 9 months old) to survive on their own. The weaning process generally begins when they are about 8 months old with cubs mostly eating acorns, berries and other plant matter by then.

But even some hunters see the hunt as problematic. "I am all for the bear hunts and have hunted bear in Canada before. However, the rules should have been laid out more specific and more clear as to size and sex," one commenter wrote on Facebook.

Others said that the hunt didn't seem fair, since these bears had never encountered this kind of threat before. "Most of these bears were shot in backyard, side of road, sleeping," one commenter wrote on Facebook. "[I]t's not hunting."

One private "farm" even offered hunters an opportunity to shoot the bears on their property for a fee. Seventy-eight percent of the bears killed were killed on private lands.

As for the orphaned cubs, volunteers concerned for animals started scouring the forests when the hunt ended, looking for orphans. But then they backed off because of concerns that the wild cubs would come too close in contact with people.

After the hunt ended, people gathered to memorialize the black bears killed and to hope their orphans survive.

"The agency believes the cubs are weaned off their mother's milk by the age of 9 months," Chris Norcott, Florida wildlife photographer and animal advocate, told The Dodo. "This is not true. I've spent years photographing black bears in the wild and have witnessed first-hand cubs nursing from their mother from newborn up until their second year at 15 months."

During the hunts, Norcott saw at least one instance of a hunter bragging on social media about pulling "crying cubs" off their mom to retrieve her lifeless body, but a search on Monday afternoon leads us to believe the post, which caused quite a stir after it was posted, had been taken down.

"What kind of Nation are we allowing a mother bear to be slaughtered in front of her 9 month old cubs?" Norcott wrote on Facebook. "Are we going to be a voice for the voiceless or turn our backs to this senseless killing? We're supposed to be good stewards to our wildlife. Let's prove it." Animal advocates are trying to stay positive, rallying to make sure that the hunt doesn't happen again next year.

But this year, 307 bears are dead, innumerable cubs are alone in the forest and the hunters appear to be perfectly happy. One hunter posted a gruesome video to Facebook of his bear hunt. "Wouldn't it be awesome if you could have got the Cubs too," one of his friends commented. The song chosen as the soundtrack? "Let the bodies hit the floor."

Learn here why the idea that killing animals helps conservation is wrong.

Add your name to a petition that says this bear hunt needs to stop.

Have a tip? Email sarahv@thedodo.com