Conservation Wildlife Management

Body Cam Footage: Kodiak Bear Cubs Found Wandering Down Road in Florida, Thousands of Miles from Native Range

“They’re not black bears. The big one’s a little bit pushy … they want food“
A man interacts with Kodiak bear cubs in Florida.
The man who found the cubs instantly realized that they weren't black bears, which are common in northwestern Florida. Photograph obtained by Outdoor Life from Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in the Florida Panhandle received a strange call at 3:30 a.m. this winter. An unidentified man had found two bear cubs on the side of a road in the small, inland town of Baker on Dec. 5. This wouldn’t have otherwise been an oddity, as northwestern Florida has a robust black bear population. Except these weren’t black bear cubs.

Instead, they turned out to be a pair of Kodiak bear cubs, with the telltale round ears and small humps on their backs. The bears (and their antics) are clearly visible in this just-released body camera footage from the officer who responded to the call on Dec. 5.

Kodiak bears are the largest subspecies of brown bear in North America and only live in the Kodiak Archipelago of Alaska, which has one of the highest population densities of bears in the world. Except for these two, of course — they’d been holed up in an enclosure on the property of a Baker resident who claimed to be a bear trainer, according to the social media posts from the sheriff’s office. The resident turned out to live on the road where the man found the bears, putting the enclosure some 3,614 miles, as the crow flies, from the cubs’ home range.

The body cam footage from the responding officer shows the cubs, both the size of large dogs, behaving in a way that indicated they’d been domesticated or were at least familiar with humans. The bears approached the officer, investigated her patrol car, and listened when the man called to them. That man remains unidentified at this time, but he recognized the cubs weren’t black bears and that they were human-conditioned. 

“They’re completely friendly, they want to check out everything,” he says in the footage. “They’re not black bears. The big one’s a little bit pushy…they want food. They’re clearly domesticated.”

After responding to the initial call, the sheriff’s office turned over the investigation to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who determined which home the bears came from. The resident, who also remains unidentified, now faces multiple charges from the state for wildlife violations. FWC did not immediately respond to request for comment on the investigation or charges, but they do note in their Facebook post that the footage was only released when the investigation had concluded.   

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The cubs were transported to a secure location for safekeeping while FWC investigated the incident. It is not immediately clear where the bears will go. 

Kodiak bear cubs don’t usually leave their mother until they’re roughly 3 years old, and these cubs look to be younger than that. They could grow up to be 10 feet tall and weigh up to 1,500 pounds if males, or 8 feet tall and 1,200 pounds if females.