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Orphaned black bear finds home at Jacksonville Zoo

'Billy' to be slowly introduced to current bear 'Betsy'

Billy the bear (By Jacksonville Zoo Senior Mammal Keeper Lynde Nunn)
Billy the bear (By Jacksonville Zoo Senior Mammal Keeper Lynde Nunn)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An orphaned 8-month-old North American black bear has found a new home at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

“Billy” was found in the wild in Immokalee, and it appears that well-meaning but uninformed individuals tried to care for him, zoo officials said.

Unfortunately Billy has become so used to people that he can't be released back into the wild, according to wildlife officials.

Billy is believe to have been born in early February and currently weighs 6o pounds. He stands roughly 4 feet tall when on his hind legs. 

He is very energetic and nearly puppy-like in his enthusiasm to greet his keepers. 

The zoo welcomed a female black bear, Betsy, in October 2016, to the newly renovated bear enclosure.

The zoo’s animal wellness staff recorded that Betsy was particularly interested in canine service animals that are trained at the zoo in partnership with K9s for Warriors. That led zoo officials to believe she would be a good candidate for having a companion, even though black bears are typically solitary animals. 

Billy and Betsy will be introduced over the next week or two, and will hopefully be sharing the exhibit in the near future. The introduction process includes a series of “howdy” encounters through the mesh of their night-house holding areas, which help the bears get to know each other. 

Keepers will monitor the interest and behavior of the two and when deemed the right time, will do a full introduction.

Until introduced, Billy will have limited time on exhibit each day with no set schedule. He is demonstrating that he is already comfortable in the spacious enclosure and particularly playful with children at the glass viewing window. 

Along with being delightful additions to the zoo, Billy and Betsy are important ambassadors to their species and help define the standards of Living Well With Wildlife, a theme prevalent in the Wild Florida section of the zoo and Northeast Florida in general, zoo officials said.

The zoo is working in partnership with other Florida zoos and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to improve bear/human relations by informing the public on the importance of avoiding interactions with wild bears.

In addition to testing bear-proof trash cans, zoos are helping to spread the message that if you encounter a young bear in the wild that appears to be orphaned, you should call the FWC Hotline at 888-404-FWCC(3922); and do not feed the bear or attempt to care for it. 

Hand-fed bears may become irreversibly accustomed to humans.