Wayward bear captured in Wellington

By Chuck Weber email

WELLINGTON, FL (WFLX) - After prowling the Wellington area for several days, a black bear was captured by the Fish and Wildlife Commission and a wildlife rehabilitator.

It turned into quite a spectacle on busy Southern Boulevard, across from Palms West Hospital. Several drivers had spotted the 300-pound bear in the vicinity Tuesday, and again Wednesday morning. Just after noon, the bear once again popped out of the vegetation separating the road from the C-51 Canal.

"We made the decision at that point that he was in a position we could safely tranquilize him with a tranquilizer dart," explained David Hitzig of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. It was Hitzig who fired the tranquilizer gun. He said he had a clear sight, taking the shot eight to ten feet from the bear.

"He definitely saw me when I got into position to take the shot," Hitzig recalled. "And we had a staring contest for awhile."

Hitzig laughed, "Believe it or not, I actually asked the bear very politely if he would step out in the open so I could get a good shot, and he nicely complied."

After waiting several minutes to make sure the bear was sedated, Hitzig and the wildlife officers attached a strap to the bear and pulled him up the canal bank. The effort was aided by a wench provided by Everglades Farm Equipment across the street.

The officers then placed the animal inside a bear trap on a trailer. The FWC planned to take the bear to Osceola National Forest west of Jacksonville.

The closest bear population is in Collier County, but a tag on the bear indicated this was the same animal the FWC had removed from the Broward County community of Weston just three weeks ago. At that point, wildlife officers took the bear to Collier County.

"Surprised, but not really all that surprised," said FWC spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro. "If it's come back (to the East Coast) from Collier County, Collier County might not be a suitable place to take him," she said.

Ferraro also explained bears do roam occasionally. "Bears will travel for miles and miles and miles to get to where they feel at home," she said. "Obviously this bear feels like urban settings is home."

"I'm glad he's safe," said Patty Trigani, a Palms West Hospital employee who came out to watch the commotion. "Get him back to where he belongs."

During the capture operation, officers had to slow traffic on Southern Boulevard, and restrict travel to one lane.