Having spent days trying to figure out a way to keep the bears out of the garbage at my little log cabin in the mountains in Connecticut, I must admit I feel a little hypocritical traveling to Florida’s Nature Coast on a wildlife tour. But here I am, swimming with the manatees and cooing over the fish and birds in the accurately-named Crystal River and feeling my heart break over orphaned baby bears at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park – a rehabilitation center for injured or orphaned animals.
I mean, what is cuter than this bear still too young to be foraging in garbage cans or even too young to take care of herself just a few months old and motherless?
This and another cub of similar age were brought to the center recently after they were were found separated from their mothers. Here they will stay eating a blend of baby food and indigenous acorns and berries (bear food) until fall arrives. Then, hopefully, they will be mature enough to be released to continue life as ordinary Florida Black Bears.
Until then, they are held in a cage in a quiet and private part of the wildlife center where Art Yerian, park manager resists their baby-like cries for a mommy substitute. It would be too easy to turn these cubs into teddy bears.
“The hardest thing is not picking them up,” Art told us explaining that it is no favor to animals to let them get too comfortable in the presence of humans.
Bears are a relatively new addition to the center. Historically it has been a place where manatees, Florida’s most famous critters have come to rehabilitate. Injured Florida manatees are cared for in the natural spring, which pumps fresh water at a constant 72 degrees into Pepper Creek down which visitors can ride and see the center from a pontoon boat.
Showing off the manatees to tourists is a cottage industry in Citrus County. At the park, some useful information is presented waterside, while the mammals laze in the spring nearby. Then just when it seems you can’t be more wowed, there’s a lower level glass walled room for watching the animals up close and at eye level.
Homosassa is a state park but it has the feel of a zoo, an aquarium, a nature walk and a museum because it is all of those. It provides a feel-good way for nature lovers to spend a day because so many of the animals thriving here; bobcats, panthers, roseate spoonbills and bald eagles might have died if not for this refuge. If that’s not enough, there’s the thrill of knowing that a small number of these native animals will someday return to the wild.
Just remind me that I wrote that the next time bears make a picnic of my garbage.
I am a journalist, a published author, speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.