Naples man captures video of huge black bear while celebrating Father's Day with kids
Jimmy Ritchie had no idea when he woke up Sunday morning that it would be the best Father's Day of his life.
The Naples resident was on his way to go bowling with his family when a huge male Florida black bear came trekking into his gated community.
"Someone just yelled out 'bear' and I see this bear, and it was almost like a joke it was so big," Ritchie said. "It was like an elephant."
His wife, Joanna, was driving the front vehicle and didn't even see the bear. Jimmy and his kids, however, got the wildlife treat of a lifetime when they got a chance to see the hairy behemoth up close and capture it on video.
The black bear video and the family went viral
Jimmy, a Naples real estate appraiser, pulled out his cell phone and started videoing the furry beast as it lumbered through several gated communities.
The video and the family went viral, and the Ritchie family has since been featured on national TV networks and various online media.
"It’s pretty fun," Ritchie said of the media attention. "My daughter loves it. We got to go on CBS news, and we’re in the New York Times and USA Today. The first person who contacted me was a producer at Good Morning America. I did an interview with my 7-year-old on Father’s Day."
Bear photos are somewhat common in Southwest Florida as they've been reported everywhere from Bonita Beach to Marco Island.
This one, however, captured the attention of the nation.
"He's walking towards the gate in my community, and I got my phone out," Ritchie said. "He walked through the gate and I kept recording as he walked down the street. Then I started talking to him, and the kids were talking to him."
The Camden Lakes family had never seen a bear roaming their neighborhood. Having grown up in the Golden Gate Estates area, Ritchie has seen one, but never one this big, he said.
"He ended up scaling the wall," Ritchie said. "A couple moments later I saw him in Milano and then he made his way into the Strand."
His children — James, 7, and Jenna, 4 — were excited to see such a large animal roaming their neighborhood streets.
Black bears are quite common in Florida
Black bears are quite common in Florida, and experts estimate the Sunshine State has a total population of more than 4,000 individuals.
This particular bear seemed calm, he said.
"The bear had no care in the world," Ritchie said. "He was just doing his thing. People say I should have called (state fish and wildlife officers) but he wasn’t a nuisance. He wasn’t breaking down someone’s door. He was just looking for some water to cool off and he found that in our lake. He swam around the lake a few minutes and got out and left."
Ritchie said the male bear was very large, likely several hundred pounds.
"I’ve only seen one other bear and it was a third of the size of this one," he said. "That thing had to have been 500 or 600 pounds."
As for seeing the bear on a holiday with his children, Ritchie said he doesn't know what would be a better gift on such a day.
"I don’t think anything’s going to top it," he said of the Father's Day treat. "I’m sure my wife would have liked to have seen it, but the kids were amazed."
FWC bear experts recommend viewing bears, when encountered, from a distance.
"Seeing a bear in a neighborhood is not necessarily cause for alarm," said Mike Orlando, with FWC's bear management program. "At a safe distance, this can be wonderful experience to view wildlife. However, these are large animals that can defend themselves if they feel threatened so they deserve a lot of respect. The best thing to do is give bears space and never feed them. If a bear is not able to find food, it will move on. So make sure to secure trash, pet food, birdfeeders and other food items that could attract a bear to your yard."
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Living with bears
In addition to securing attractants like garbage, pet food and wild bird food, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission urges the public not to approach a bear if they see one, and to keep a safe distance. If you do encounter a bear at close range, do not run.
Remain standing upright, speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice, and back up slowly while leaving the bear with a clear escape route.
Report human-bear conflicts to the FWC’s Southwest Regional Office at (863) 648-3200.
For more information about the Florida black bear, please visit myfwc.com/bear.
Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.