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Why a bear seen on Tampa International Airport property is not all that surprising

 In this screenshot off video, a black bear was seen outside Tampa International Airport property on June 12, 2023. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up a trap and captured the bear the next day.
Tampa International Airport
Bear walking along a fence outside Tampa International Airport

The captured bear may have been the first to be spotted there, but it is certainly not an anomaly for the state of Florida.

A somewhat rare sighting at Tampa International Airport on Tuesday afternoon resulted in several agencies combining efforts to capture a Florida black bear that was seen outside airport property.

During a Wednesday news conference, airport Executive Vice President of Operations John Tiliacos said a Transportation Security Administration employee spotted the bear as it walked along a perimeter fence near Hillsborough Avenue, on the north end of the property near the employee parking lot.

A bear is seen walking outside Tampa International Airport

Once the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority was alerted, officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee and Tampa Police Department teamed up to trap the bear, according to the release.

Airport and FWC officials set up a trap and perimeter in a densely wooded area on the airport property Tuesday to keep the animal contained.

They monitored the area overnight Tuesday with help from the Tampa Police Department, which located the bear sleeping through infrared video taken from a helicopter.

By Wednesday, the bear was trapped.

Overhead infrared photo shows the bear sleeping on its back
Tampa International Airport
Overnight infrared helicopter video taken by the Tampa Police Department shows the bear sleeping on its back in a wooded area.

Bear sightings not a rare occurrence

Airport officials say this was the first time a bear was seen within their property, but that does not necessarily mean that they are uncommon here.

Mike Orlando, the FWC's bear program director, said Tampa does not have a large local bear population in itself, but there are areas to the north and east that are well-inhabited.

Orlando said it's not unusual for curious, dispersing bears to make their way into metropolitan areas across the state — including airports — during the spring and summer.

"We have bears in and around communities every day," Orlando said. "There are millions of people in this state that have bears in and around their neighborhoods or yards."

Orlando said these animals deserve our admiration and appreciation — but also our respect. He advises to give bears their personal space and to not try to feed them in the wild.

 Close-up of a bear in a cage
Tampa International Airport
A black bear was trapped on June 13, 2023, after it was spotted outside Tampa International Airport property. The bear was relocated to a preserve in Central Florida.

The bear is safe and sound

Tiliacos said the bear retreated into the woods Tuesday, where it was isolated overnight.

The bear made several attempts to come out of the woods, and after FWC officials tried twice to tranquilize it, the bear was lured into one of the traps and was safely captured.

The FWC safely relocated the bear to Ocala National Forest.

“Thanks to these critical efforts, there was no risk to any employees or disruptions to airport operations,” Tiliacos said.

Tashie Tierney is the WUSF Stephen Noble Digital News intern for summer of 2023.