A black bear mother and her cub (file photo)
PANAMA CITY, Florida - A Panama City man is recovering after colliding with a black bear while riding his bike to work.
John Hearn said he saw something out of the corner of his eye early Thursday morning. The nearly 300-pound bear smacked him off his bicycle and then fled into some nearby woods. Passing motorists stopped to help Hearn, who sustained minor injuries. The back tire of his bike was also ripped off.
Hearn, who bikes to work at Tyndall Air Force Base a few times a week, said he still plans to bike to work.
Meanwhile, Florida's top expert on black bears calls the whole incident extremely unusual.
David Telesco, the state's Black Bear Management Program coordinator, says there are scores of vehicle crashes with bears in Florida every year, but collisions with people are very rare.
"Vehicle strikes are unfortunately somewhat common. In a typical year we get about 150, but actually hitting a person is very rare. The only incident I know of with an accident like that was in Ft. Myers in 2009. A bear ran into a woman who was outside of her place of business. It's just very rare to occur like that."
Bears may pose a danger to people if they stumble upon the animal's food or babies, but Telesco says unprovoked bear attacks have not been reported in Florida.
"We have never had an unprovoked or predatory attack on a person. People have been hurt by bears. Unfortunately it's situations where the bear is defending food or its young, but we've had people feeding bears and they've been swatted."
Florida's black bear population is estimated around 3,000. Increasing development has increased the odds that people will cross the paths of bears. They are large and powerful, but typically shy.
Telesco says one of the best ways to minimize contact with them is to make sure you don't have any trash lying around your yard.
"The number one thing that attracts bears is garbage and if the garbage is not available for bears to access, they have no reason to hang around our neighborhoods."
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Dave Heller, 10 News and The Associated Press