Because of the increased development throughout the state of Florida, the black bear’s habitats have been dwindling in size. As a result, black bears are traveling less, and becoming more isolated. This isolation results in unhealthy inbreeding. Researchers have turned to GPS to help out the bears. According to Dr. John Cox, head of the South-Central Florida Bear Project, bears need to travel to and from different-bear habitats in order to stay healthy.
“This population of bears is actually losing genetic diversity,” Cox said. “You see that loss of healthy genes in the population over time….That is a sign of isolation.”
To study the bears new migration patterns, researchers have been attaching cellular GPS collars to the bears. The collars send a text message back to them every 15 minutes which update researchers with the bears’ location. So far, 55 black bears have been outfitted with these GPS collars that work using cellular technology. This data is helpful because it lets researchers discover which are the most important habitats to be protected for the bears.
“Having the bears wear the GPS collars is “wonderful because the bears are telling us what habitat we need to protect,”" said Tricia Martin of The Nature Conservancy.
So how do researchers at the South-Central Florida Bear Project manage to get the collars around these formidable creatures? They lure them in with day-old doughnuts or brownies covered in whipped cream, and then they shoot them with a tranquilizer. The whole process usually takes just 90 minutes and the bear remains relatively unharmed.