Alaska News

Kodiak brown bear cubs found wandering along a rural road in north Florida

A pair of Kodiak brown bear cubs unique to Alaska were found roaming the Florida Panhandle and the encounter got even stranger when they tried to play with the responding sheriff’s deputy.

The discovery was made at 3:30 a.m. on an early-December morning by a man driving through rural Okaloosa County.

Motorist Zach Richards told authorities he knew instantly the cubs were not Florida’s native black bears. Not only did they look odd, but they also were acting differently.

Deputy Amanda Baliel discovered this the hard way, when she arrived to find the overly friendly bears following her around like lost toddlers and trying to climb into her patrol car.

“I feel claws. I don’t like claws. No claws,” Baliel says in the video, only to see the bears focus their attention on her car.

“Don’t tear up my car please. They’re climbing on my car. ... 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.”

Baliel eventually got back in her car, in part because she feared the mama bear might be hiding nearby in the dark.


The encounter happened Dec. 5 but the sheriff’s office didn’t share news of the discovery until Jan. 31, after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission completed an investigation.

“These cubs were technically about 3,614 miles from what would normally be ‘home’ — in Alaska,” the sheriff’s office wrote in a Facebook post. “They are apparently Kodiak cubs, a unique subspecies of the brown or grizzly bears.”

Officers with FWC were called to investigate, resulting in the bears being seized and “taken to Zoo World in Panama City,” officials said.

“It was determined the bears had escaped from an inadequate enclosure at a residence on Old River Road where a self-proclaimed bear trainer lives,” the sheriff’s office reported.

“The resident faces various Florida wildlife violations related to the findings of the FWC investigation.”

The 52-year-old suspect told investigators he operates “a game farm and was a bear trainer,” according to an FWC affidavit. He said he took possession of the bears in February, but they belonged to another individual.

State investigators say they discovered the farm had “violations involving importation permits, caging requirements, and licensing,” the affidavit reports.

Kodiak brown bears are found “exclusively on the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago,” according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world. A large male can stand over 10 (feet) tall when on his hind legs, and 5 (feet) when on all four legs. They weigh up to 1,500 pounds.”