Bear With Me

I have an unhealthy fascination with bears. We live in Central Florida, practically spitting distance from the dreaded Interstate 4, so you wouldn’t think we’d get much interaction with them; but we do.

Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) sightings have ramped up in the last 12 or 15 years. The cuddly-looking creatures are being squeezed out of their habitat. I understand how that works, but I don’t understand what is so great about my backyard. For some reason they like to stop by here and destroy my bird feeding station. It wouldn’t be so bad if they did it when I could observe them and maybe even give them a wink as they tear things up, but they wait until I’m asleep and then – BAM! Birdseed and feeders go flying all over the place. Sometimes they knock over the birdbath. They are none too careful.

We have replaced the station several times and it is now outfitted with a stand which they can simply knock over instead of breaking the metal pole in two like a toothpick. They’ve knocked it over twice in the last few months, so I think we’ve got that angle figured out. Knock on wood.

Even with all the expense and clean-up they have caused us to undertake, I really want to see the bears. I have a high-powered flashlight to aid in my pursuit of even a glimpse. We have dubbed it the bear flashlight and it has been used to spot raccoons and opossums, but so far, no luck in the bear department. I have seen bears in our former neighborhood and in my son’s neighborhood, but here on the home front, I just see their path of destruction.

All that to say, when David Martin of our local Fox 35 news reported on Bearadise Ranch in Myakka City, which is just east of Sarasota, I knew I had to check it out. Here was a family who had dedicated their lives to bears and transformed the property which their home sits on into a bear preserve – truly a bear paradise.

Can you say day trip? Bob and I headed over there with visions of bear cuddling dancing through our heads. Alright, Bob had no such vision, but a girl can dream!

Monica runs Bearadise Ranch and gives close-up tours – not so close that you can get a bear hug or even touch one, but a good tour, nonetheless. The bears live on her property in several habitats, and they are clearly in love with her – and not like one loves apple pie. I can tell the feeling is mutual. She is so good with them and cool as a cucumber while interacting with these big fellows. She married into this job. Her husband’s family has been caring for bears since 1926. His grandfather was with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in the late 1940s.

These bears are famous. They have been in movies and on TV shows as well as commercials. They aren’t just ordinary black bears either, there are also brown bears, aka, grizzlies. It surprised me to see Monica interact with them in their own habitats. She has no fear. They clearly have a rapport with each other.

During our tour, she told us how the bears grieved when her husband died unexpectedly in 2017. It took months for them to get past that grief. She stayed right with them through her own grief, wearing her husband’s shirts as a means of comfort. They had to be cared for and she did just that. When she told her stories, I couldn’t help but feel admiration at what she does day in and day out. Monica is one amazing, hard-working lady, and she is dedicated to the wellbeing of each of her bears. It is worth the trip to Myakka to see her interact with her grizzly and brown bears. I highly recommend it but make a reservation first.

We’ve all had those time when we’ve taken a bath and the towel was just out of reach.

One potato, two potato. If you don’t eat it fast, you get no potato.

If you want to take a tour, contact Monica on her Facebook page, Bearadise Bear Ranch Preserve, or her website. You can also book lunch on the ranch. She has a cute gift shop as well as a pictorial history of their bears since their early days.

Monica is a wonderful hostess/tour guide/educator.