A Florida black bear cub rescued from brush fires in Lake County in April is one step closer to his return to wild habitat. “Smokey Jr.,” as he was affectionately nicknamed by Lake County Fire Rescue, had his final check-up at the Zoo’s veterinary hospital -- his home for about 4 weeks -- and was given a clean bill of health. Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) relocated him to Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in preparation for release late this year.
While in veterinary care at the Zoo’s hospital, Smokey Jr. exhibited a healthy appetite which consisted of a milk-based formula, rice cereal and the introduction to blueberries and strawberries. He grew from 6 pounds to 18 pounds, tripling his weight. The singed fur he had upon arrival grew out, with no visible markings remaining. In addition, veterinary team members reported his demeanor and behaviors were consistent with that of a wild bear -- he avoided people where possible and when approached (for closer observation or weight checks) he would snarl and swipe.
The Zoo looked after the young cub using FWC protocols, as it has fornumerous others, with the goal of reintroduction to wild habitat. This means he was monitored with minimal interaction to reduce the likelihood of imprinting or habituation.
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo works with the FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(USFWS) to provide veterinary support for native Florida wildlife including manatees, panthers, black bears, bald eagles, whooping cranes and gopher tortoises. The newest patient was the 13th black bear to receive care at the Zoo, which has provided a home for a total of five black bears including three current residents (two young females and an adult male).