Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Glazed donuts play major role in Ocala bear census

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 9:49 AM

"Enough with these huckleberries, I want that Krispy Kreme!" Photo via Coulton's Conjectures.

With human/bear encounters steadily on the rise, wildlife officials have invaded the Ocala National Forest to determine just how many bears are dwelling within this established ursine hotspot. An accurate count is vital to implementing future conservation/management plans on the multi-county level. The state's previous census in 2003 suggested around 3,000 bears made their home in Ocala's 673 square mile thicket (believe it or not, in the 1970s Florida's bear population was hovering at just 300).

So how exactly do biologists isolate each bear to make sure it is accurately counted? Two words: glazed donuts. Despite the fact Ocala National Forest is already teeming with foodstuffs bears love (such as saw palmetto, wild blueberry, huckleberry, gallberry, wild grapes, and four types of acorns) nothing beats the warm gooey rush of glazed donuts. A bag of the humanoid treats is suspended above an area cordoned off with barbed wire; as the bear hops over or crawls under the wire, ostensibly snatches of his or her hair become caught on the barbs, allowing researchers to collect the vital bear DNA. 

Contrary to the popular belief that bears only feast on human children and garbage, researchers say 80% of what the animals eat in the wild is plant life. The remaining 20% of their diet consists of "colonizing insects" such as bees and wasps. It is only on rare occasions that a bear will kill a goat or boar for food (bears are not especially agile hunters). This is of course what makes the leftover Steakums in your trash can so appealing to a bear --- even Hefty doesn't put up as much fight as a boar.

Researchers have set up approximately 300 donut snares this year and will be collecting samples for upwards of six weeks. We at the Weekly remind you of course not to give a bear a donut if you encounter one on Orange Avenue or in your backyard. Bears are not supposed to have donuts, delicious as they may be. Obviously if bears were supposed to have donuts they'd grow in the forest instead of gallberries.

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