UPDATED 02.06.24: After the bears’ origin and species were called into question last week, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials again confirmed with KMXT that the cubs are Kodiak brown bears. Fish and Wildlife did not say how they determined the animals were Kodiak bears but referred back to the charging documents.
A video of a pair of Kodiak brown bear cubs found a long way from home made the rounds on social media and various news websites this week. KMXT’s Davis Hovey has more on this curious case caught on camera in Florida.
Two Kodiak bear cubs recently turned up in the Florida Panhandle after escaping from an enclosure. Body camera footage from the local county sheriff’s office, which was released this week [Jan. 31], shows an unusually playful interaction between the cubs and two people who found them walking down the road in Baker, Florida.
Deputy Amanda Baliel was the local police officer on scene Dec. 5, when a motorist reported finding the cubs that did not look like the usual Florida black bears. Around 3:30 a.m. that morning, Baliel’s body camera shows the bears sniffing her and the motorist before climbing onto the police car.
“It’s like they are not afraid of people because they will come right up to you and let you pet them. They are very curious,” Baliel said in the video.
Based on their appearance and behaviors, it was determined that the cubs were in fact Kodiak brown bears. Kodiak bears are a unique subspecies of brown bears according to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and live exclusively on the Kodiak Archipelago; where they have been isolated from other bears for the past 12,000 years, since the last ice age.
So how did two Kodiak bear cubs end up almost 4,000 miles away in the panhandle of Florida?
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials say the animals escaped from a nearby “bear trainer” who was operating a game farm. The bear trainer reportedly trained the Kodiak bears for another person and said he did not own them. Charging documents note the trainer obtained the bears in February of 2023 and brought them into Florida to be housed on his game farm, although it does not specify from which state they came from.
Fish and Wildlife seized the cubs after seeing the trainer was keeping them in an inadequate outdoor cage with a wire mesh roof, which is similar to an enclosure for dogs.
According to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the bear trainer has since been charged with various wildlife violations including unlawfully importing Kodiak Bears, as well as violations involving importation permits, caging requirements, and licensing.
While the incident actually occurred in early December of 2023, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office didn’t release the video until Wednesday, Jan. 31 after Florida officials concluded their investigation.
According to Fish and Wildlife officials, the curious cubs were transferred to Zoo World in Panama City Beach, Florida. It is unknown what happened to the bears’ mother.