Tourists strike black bear with SUV, like 'hitting a brick wall'

English tourist Paul Oakley, 48, checks out the damage to his rental Ford Expedition XLT in the garage of the villa where his family is staying in Lely Resort after a collision with a Florida black bear on U.S. 41 East around midnight Tuesday. The bear has not been found and its condition is not known. The collision left Oakley, his wife, Katherine, 47, and daughter, Caitlin, 10, uninjured but shaken. Bears are on the move this time of year, which is mating season.

Photo by Eric Staats, Naples Daily News 2012

English tourist Paul Oakley, 48, checks out the damage to his rental Ford Expedition XLT in the garage of the villa where his family is staying in Lely Resort after a collision with a Florida black bear on U.S. 41 East around midnight Tuesday. The bear has not been found and its condition is not known. The collision left Oakley, his wife, Katherine, 47, and daughter, Caitlin, 10, uninjured but shaken. Bears are on the move this time of year, which is mating season.

Florida black bear mating season collided with tourist season earlier this week on a darkened stretch of U.S. 41 East west of San Marco Road.

A British couple and their 10-year-old daughter were returning Tuesday night to Lely Resort after a day trip to Miami when a bear lunged in front of their Ford Expedition XLT, which struck it, said Paul Oakley, 48, who was driving just before midnight.

The collision comes as the June to July bear breeding season gets underway and bears are on the move, looking for food and mates, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"It was like hitting a brick wall," said Oakley's wife, Katherine, 47. "It was too enormous to run over it. Then it was gone."

Paul Oakley said it happened so suddenly that he had no time to brake or even swerve to avoid the bear, which has not been found. He said he knew right away it was a bear, but they would have found a crash with an alligator more believable.

Too frightened to pull over, they drove the damaged rental car the last few miles back to where they are staying at the Ashton Court subdivision in East Naples.

A Collier County sheriff's deputy who took a report on the crash told the Oakleys the bear must have weighed 800 pounds, judging from the damage to the SUV's front end, Katherine Oakley said.

Conservation Commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said it would be "highly unusual" to have a bear that large; the largest Florida black bear on record was 624 pounds. It came from Collier County.

From Jan. 1 to June 1 this year, the Conservation Commission reported one bear roadkill in Collier County and 27 statewide. Last year, Collier County ranked sixth among Florida counties with seven bears killed in vehicle collisions compared to 174 statewide.

Black bears, which Florida is poised to remove from the state's list of threatened species, have rebounded after bottoming out at 300 bears in Florida in 1974.

Scientists estimate the population at between 2,500 and 3,000 bears today. The Big Cypress population, which includes Collier County, is the state's second largest with between 500 and 900 bears.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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