Back in April, residents of Lake Mary (a small Florida town outside Orlando) said they'd seen a neighbor feeding a black bear. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) workers went to see what was up, only to find several bears responding to officers, looking and expecting food.
A number of neighbors confirmed enough damning details that the FWC knew who the culprit was: one Eugene "Douglas" Cifers.
They said he hand feeds the bears and they come right up to the patio. They also said Cifers takes pictures of he and his wife feeding the bears and shows them to neighbors. On trash days, Cifers tells neighbors he'll leave food out so the bears "won't get into everybody's trash" but they inevitably do.
Multiple people confirmed Cifers had been doing this for at least a year, and one person claimed it had been going on for the last two years. A garbage man working the neighborhood the last seven months confirmed that he'd seen Cifers feeding bears and the two even shared a conversation where Cifers was asked what he feeds the animals. "Sun flower seeds," he replied.
After investigating for a few days, the FWC showed up to Cifers door to chat. He didn't agree to an interview, but he didn't refuse either, saying he wanted to follow-up with his wife. During the conversation with officials, Cifers revealed interesting details. Among them: He knows many political figures, including past Florida governors. He is a Vietnam Vet. He loves bears and has been approached by a TV station to become a "Bear Whisperer". And -- according to Cifers -- he does not feed bears.
In the report, the FWC also has a photo and a video that show Cifers feeding black bears. They concluded that there was "sufficient probable cause to show that Eugene Douglas Cifers has regularly and intentionally fed bears during the past 12 months."
Cifers pled not guilty to charges of "intentionally placing food or garbage, allowing the placement of food or garbage, or offering food or garbage in such a manner that it attracts black bears, foxes or raccoons and in a manner that is likely to create or creates a public nuisance." The case has been turned over to the State Attorney's office for prosecution, but Greg Workman, a public information coordinator for the FWC, told New Times the dangers of bears being fed the way Cifers allegedly did.
"The Florida Black Bear is a wild animal, and no matter if the bear appears to be friendly or not, it's still wild and can be very dangerous," he said. "A bear will naturally run away or climb a tree to escape what they perceive as danger or if they're scared. A bear that approaches you is a sign that it's been habituated, and a habituated bear is a dangerous bear. We cannot rehabilitate a highly habituated bear, nor can we relocate them, as it will only relocate a dangerous bear to another location."
Here are some tips from Workman on dealing with bears, if you see them:
- Residents should never intentionally feed bears. It is both dangerous and illegal.
- Once adult bears become dependent on human provided food, there is nothing we can do to unlearn that behavior and they must be removed.
- By feeding bears, people are not helping them. They may be signing their death sentence.
- Citizens with any information regarding the intentional feeding of bears should contact the FWC's Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). If you supply relevant information you may be eligible for reward and your identity can remain anonymous.
- The FWC will make every effort to trap and remove bears that are deemed a public safety risk.
- Statewide, the FWC has staff available to work with the public to address bear conflicts.
- They can contact their regional office or the FWC hotline.
- Each conflict is addressed on a call specific basis to ensure that the appropriate action is taken.
- Fourteen people have been scratched or bitten by bears in Florida.
- Trash is the number one attractant for bears.
- The best way to address these situations is to proactively remove attractants which will deter bears from coming into these areas.
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