A pair of bear ambassadors will help educate the public about Florida black bears at the The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.
Zoo officials spent more than half a million dollars on a new Florida Black Bear and Habitat Exhibit that opens Tuesday. Ella and Guignard (pronounced jin-yard) have their own specially-designed bear house, where they will be making appearances in the early morning while getting accustomed to their new habitat.
The pair were rescued by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) agents in 2014. Georgia loggers working in North Florida chased the mother from her den and a logger adopted the month-old cubs, which is illegal. The logger placed one bear in a backyard cage and gave the second to an uncle, who called authorities afraid of getting caught.
FWC officials decided that the Central Florida Zoo could be a suitable home for the cubs while providing an interactive learning environment for the than 300,000 annual visitors, said Julia Krall, deputy director of the zoo’s annual fund and membership.
Guests can now view the bears from various points along the boardwalk, as well as from the bear viewing house, where guests will be able to learn about ways that they can reduce bear-human interactions.
FWC has a BearWise program to reduce conflicts and educate residents to keep their garage doors closed, invest in bear-resistant trash bins and never feed the more than 4,000 black bears that roam the state. Urban sprawl is encroaching on the bears’ natural habitat, especially in Seminole County, home to the zoo. As the population grows, people are more likely to encounter bears and the new exhibit will help educate them about how to coexist.
The Sanford zoo’s new bear viewing house will allow residents to watch the bears, whose names were selected by two donors, while learning important tips about living near the wild animals.
Moving to a brand new home can be intimidating so the bears are gradually getting used to their new environment, according to Krall. Initially, the bears will be on exhibit for 90 minutes, starting at 9:30 a.m. The hours will be extended as they become accustomed to their new home.
When the bears are not in the mood for visitors, the pathway leading to the viewing house will be closed for the bears’ privacy and comfort.