(ran PW edition)
A car struck a bear Friday, and state wildlife officials searched for the animal, which fled.
Officials never found the injured bear, but they hope the accident will serve as a warning to motorists: Bears are on the move this time of year searching for food.
Marcia Marie Lambert of Spring Hill was driving west on Cortez Boulevard, west of U.S. 19, when a black bear ran out of the woods and into the path of her car. Her car's left front bumper struck the bear. The moaning animal then ran back into the woods.
Jeff McGrady, a biologist with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, was called in from Lakeland to track the bear.
"They're extremely tough, extremely resilient. If it was mortally wounded it would be on the side of the road," McGrady said.
Rip Stalvey, of the game and fish commission, said that when injured wild animals are not found they have at least a 50 percent chance of surviving.
"Wild animals, I think, are a lot tougher than you'd think they'd be," Stalvey said.
Yellow and black warning signs stand on both sides of Cortez Boulevard to alert motorists that the stretch is frequently crossed by bears.
About 20 bears are thought to live around the Weeki Wachee swamp area.
P.C. Thompson, of the game and fish commission, said some accidents are unavoidable. Warning signs can't save an animal that darts out in front of a motorist, Thompson said.
Lambert told Thompson that the bear she hit was as big as her bumper. The animal was probably an adult, further adding to its chances of survival, Thompson said.
Earlier this year, County Commissioner John Richardson suggested adding beacons to bear crossing signs posted along U.S. 19 and County Road 550, where several accidents have occurred.
Richardson said then that he hoped the lights would increase awareness about the animals, especially at night.
Several motorists said Friday that they had seen a bear at the edge of the road for the past few weeks.
Stalvey, of the game and fish commission, said Florida's winters don't get cold enough to drive bears into hibernation, so they are active year round. Right now, there are many foods available to them, such as palmetto berries and heart of cabbage palms, he said.