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Florida’s largest native land mammal is the Black Bear – a very shy and extremely elusive creature which hides within dense vegetation and can only be spotted very rarely in the wild.  Spotting one is an event to cherish, and absolutely thrilling for those who are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. That being said, your chances of encountering a Florida Black Bear are greater today than any time over the past 100 years.

Black Bears are just as difficult to spot as the Florida Panther – so imagine our surprise recently when one walked onto the hiking trail we were on, just meters in front of us!  To put it into perspective, Mike has been hiking Florida extensively over the last 8 years and had only ever spotted a wild black bear once before.  Having now spotted both a Florida Panther and a Florida Black Bear within the same week I’m assuming I’m either an incredibly lucky charm or they like Australian meat!


It’s incredibly rare to see a wild Florida Black Bear. It’s equally as rare to spot a wild Florida Panther. Imagine how rare it is to then capture them both at the same time!

Black Bears are relatively common within the Big Cyprus Swamp and the Ocala National Forest, however we were riding through Bird Rookery Swamp at the time.  While we froze as soon as we saw him, we froze out of awe as opposed to being scared for our safety.  Most bear encounters in the forests are not threatening – they eat honey, berries and insects as opposed to humans – however that’s not to say they are teddy bears!  Bears are incredibly dangerous and should never be regarded as completely harmless, especially a sow with cubs.  If possible, try to avoid hiking alone, and should you be lucky enough to encounter a bear, enjoy from a distance….which is what zoom lenses are for!

Stick to only shooting through your zoom lens, however, as black bears are protected.  Hunting or killing a black bear in Florida is a felony which will land you up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine, and it is also illegal to sell or trade bear parts within the State.  While the species has seen a severe population decline in the past due to recent conservation efforts their numbers are rebounding.  It is estimated that there are between 2,500 – 3,000 bears within Florida at the moment, with around 1,200 of these being located within Ocala National Park.

Find them too!

You are most likely to encounter a black bear within the Ocala National Forest.  The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway runs right through the middle of the Forest and will provide access to many of the forests dirt roads.  Bears are more likely to be spotted during the early hours of the morning and just before dark, however also keep an eye out for bobcats, fox, deer and a number of reptiles.  There are many hiking trails for those more adventurous wanting to take a walk ‘on the wild side’!

Florida Black Bear

Florida Black Bear. Location: Bird Rookery Swamp

For more information, head to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Have you ever spotted a rare animal?




  1. Wow, what an incredible sighting! I’ve been to British Columbia, Canada twice and rarely seen black bears, they’re such brilliant animals though. I had to google Florida Panther, I’d never heard of it. It’s a cougar right? or a subspecies of. We saw one once crossing the Sea to Sky highway, right in front of us. So close, what a superb cat. So much bigger than I imagined! Such a rush to see it, I never forget that moment.

    • They really are amazing animals! I haven’t been up to Canada yet, but absolutely can’t wait to get to British Columbia; I’ve heard amazing things!

      Exactly – Florida panther is the same family as the cougar and the mountain lion. They bought in a lot of bigger cats from Texas a while back as well so that the population wouldn’t die off from becoming inbred – fun fact for you :D Magnificent cat though – just like you, I was surprised by the size! They’re so quick to disappear as well after they realize they’ve been spotted – sightings are always so fleeting!!

      I’ll have to look up the Sea to Sky Highway and add it to my road trip list :D

  2. Wooow, that much have been quite the thrill!
    My parents went to Canada this summer and everyone told them they’d be really lucky if they’d get to see some bears. They ended up seeing bears almost every day! Sometimes just meters away.
    My dad took some great shots which I’m sure he’ll share on my blog as well:)

    • It was amazing!! Canada is incredibly high on our bucket list – even more so now that you’ve told me there are bears! We’re obsessed with wildlife :D!

      I can’t wait to read your blog with the pictures!

  3. Wow! I wouldn’t know whether to scream and run or put my hand over my mouth, take pictures and then run. So amazing!

    • We took pictures and then ran…but in the same direction as the bear after he sauntered off into the vegetation to try and find him again hehe! Truly was amazing!

  4. Amazing!! Must have been exciting if a little scary!

    • Strangely I wasn’t scared at all – more intrigued and frozen in awe! He just kind of did his own thing and didn’t even pay attention to us! Definitely head out to the Everglades if you get the chance to visit Florida!

  5. I’ve been out in a lot of places hiking/driving and have yet to see a bear in Florida. Been to bird rookery swamp many times. It’s one of my favorite places. Never seen a bear there but did hear one far off. Never saw a panther yet anywhere. Have seen bobcats, coyotes, wild hogs, and other cool wildlife. But hope at some point to see a panther and bear

    • They’re a very rare occurance, and I’m sure the above shot is an even rarer occurance yet, to have them both in the same frame. We got exceptionally lucky!

      Hope you spot them too :)

  6. I live in Florida near Daytona Beach. Bear are seen a lot out here. They became so numerous that an official hunt was allowed. There was only 300 kills allowed in the 3 day hunt. That many were killed in the first day so the rest of the hunt was cancelled. Just today I found bear scat outside my front door. I thought it might be under my deck napping which is open on one side but I decided not to go investigate. Like most wild animals they want nothing to do with us. But if it feels threatened…Watch out! I live out in the county and used to be surrounded by woods. Lots of condos have gone up and the woods are mostly gone now. It’s a real shame! I used to tromp through those woods as a kid with little thought to the bears, Florida panther, rattlesnakes and other dangerous wildlife. Now I miss them!

    • Hi Dinah, thank you for reading, and for sharing your experiences – I agree, it’s so heartbreaking to see more and more of the woods disappearing and being replaced by condos. This is what truly defined Florida but piece by piece it’s slowly being removed :(

      We hope that the remaining habitat for them can be preserved as much as possible, as they truly are incredible creatures!

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