Glazed donuts play major role in Ocala bear census
With human/bear encounters steadily on the rise, wildlife officials have invaded the Ocala National Forest to determine just how many Yogis are dwelling within this established ursine hotspot. An accurate snout count is of course vital to implementing future bear conservation and management plans on the multi-county level. The state’s 2003 census suggested around 3,000 bears made their home in Ocala’s 673-square-mile thicket (believe it or not, in the 1970s our 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 that 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 sugar-laden treats is suspended above an area cordoned off with barbed wire; as the bear jumps over or crawls under the wire, snatches of 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 discarded junk food, researchers say 80 percent of what the animals eat in the wild is plant life. The remaining 20 percent 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). Naturally this is what makes the leftover Steakums in your trash can so appealing – 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 hair samples for upwards of six weeks. We at the Weekly remind you 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. Obviously if bears were supposed to have donuts, they’d be growing in the forest instead of gallberries.