TAMPA — Eloy Perez hadn't noticed the intruder lounging under the oak tree in his back yard.
He let Summer, his golden retriever, out into the yard just before 7 a.m. Friday. She started to bark. Perez peered outside and noticed the source of Summer's fright.
A 300-pound black bear.
Perez ushered Summer inside. He called 911. When deputies arrived at Perez's house at 2817 W Broad St. near Egypt Lake, the bear had rambled up his 30-foot tree.
"I don't think I've ever seen something like this," said Perez, 70.
Within four hours, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers darted the bear and removed him from the tree.
It wasn't the first time the wildlife agency encountered the furry wanderer. On June 8, he was captured in downtown Orlando, weighing in at about 150 pounds. Officials sent him to the Ocala National Forest, said commission spokesman Gary Morse.
But the 3-year-old bear recently drifted away from Ocala. About two weeks ago, he was seen near Citrus County. His traveling, Morse said, was triggered by his pursuit to find a mate. June and July is mating season for black bears.
"He was looking for love in all the wrong places," Morse said.
The bear's capture Friday highlights a growing trend in Florida. A surge in the black bear population through the years — about 3,000 bears in the state — has caused more sightings. In 2010 and 2011, more than 4,000 calls were reported to the commission each year. In 2012, it was more than 6,000, the largest number of black bear calls reported to the conservation commission.
"It was an absolute nightmare for us. We were really scrambling to keep up with the amount of bears," said FWC assistant bear program coordinator Mike Orlando. "In a nutshell, we have more bears and more people. Those two forces are sort of butting heads more so now than we really ever had before."
Wildlife officers captured another bear in Tampa last year along Busch Boulevard.
On Friday morning, the bear huddled atop a branch in the oak tree, occasionally yawning and contemplating the ground below. A red tag hung from his right ear. His glossy black fur shined in the sunlight.
Black bears, Orlando said, are typically shy.
About a dozen neighbors gathered in the back yard next door to catch a glimpse of the visitor. Neighbors pointed out the black bulge up high in the branches to others. They snapped photos and video with cellphones.
"It adds excitement to our day," said neighbor Bruce Cohen.
Denise Manganello stood a few steps away. "I wonder how on earth it would get there and no one has noticed until now?" she thought aloud. "I wonder what it's been eating."
Her husband, Larry, chuckled. "As long as it wasn't us."
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office patrol cars and FWC trucks flanked the front of Perez's home. About 10 a.m., FWC investigator Daryl Amerson arrived in a Ford F-150. He removed a dart rifle, as well as several vials and needles from a metal box.
Amerson then headed to the back yard. He stood under the tree, pointed the rifle at the bear, and fired. "He was a very calm bear," Amerson said. "It was a perfect target for a dart."
The bear stood still and yawned. Minutes later, Amerson fired again.
This time, the bear wobbled and lost his balance. Within seconds, he plunged about 15 feet onto a blue tarp below. Officers hauled him away.
He lay on the pavement for a few seconds, deep in slumber, before workers stowed him into a metal container. A white cloth covered his eyes. His paws curled toward his chest.
Biologists drove the bear back to the Ocala National Forest, about 120 miles away.
This time, they hope, for good.
Times staff writer Meredith Rutland contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3386.