Man stands with two kodiak bear cubs on a north county road
Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office

How Did Kodiak Bear Cubs End Up In the Florida Panhandle?

A "Florida Man" mystery, unraveled.

Florida is used to seeing creatures that don't belong there. But they usually take the form of invasive Burmese pythons, feral hogs, cane toads and the like. However, residents of the Florida Panhandle were quite surprised when they found two Kodiak bear cubs traipsing around their neighborhood.

The two cubs were reported to Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office on Dec. 5 at 3:30 a.m. by a local man. He told dispatchers that the cubs "didn't appear to be our common Northwest Florida black bears." It turns out he was correct. The playful and healthy cubs were roaming around near the road in a northern part of Okaloosa County, which is 50 miles northeast of Pensacola. The deputy was surprised at how friendly they were. Her body camera recorded footage of the pair trying to get the officer and the man who reported the sighting to join in their antics. The department shared the body cam footage on its Facebook page.

"They're climbing on my car," viewers can hear the deputy say in the video. "It's like they're not afraid of people, 'cause they'll walk right up to you and they'll let you pet them. They're very curious."

Even though the incident occurred at the beginning of December, the department shared the footage only recently because it was waiting for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to complete its investigation into where the bears came from.

So how did two Kodiak cubs get over 3,500 miles from home? Florida is a far cry from their native Alaska. It turns out the cubs escaped from a residence near where they were found. The pair escaped from a "substandard confinement" and took themselves for a walk. The home belongs to a "self-proclaimed bear trainer," who is now facing a litany of wildlife charges from Florida Fish and Wildlife.

While authorities said the bears were taken to a secure location during the investigation, they did not say where these two playful cuties will end up. They clearly were domesticated and accustomed to people feeding them, which may present a problem with introducing them back into the wild. Male Kodiak bears are the world's largest bear, growing to over 10 feet tall standing on their hind legs, and can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.

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