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Animal Rights Foundation of Florida holds a rally protesting Florida bear hunting at Lake Eola Park on Oct 23, 2015. Video by: Gabby Baquero, Central Florida Future

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A stuffed black teddy bear hangs from a noose amidst a crowd of animal-welfare advocates collectively chanting “stop the hunt, save our bears” in sync at Lake Eola. Some drivers passing by show their support for the Stop the Florida Bear Hunt rally by honking their horns while others engage in name-calling and shout out profanities.

The scene is the work of social media activism organized by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, which hosted a rally from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. protesting the statewide Florida bear hunt scheduled to commence tomorrow at 7 a.m.

“There’s already a tremendous amount of pressure on these bears. Adding a hunt to it is just effectively rubbing salt into the wound of these species trying so hard to exist in a community that is already so dangerous for them," Brian Wilson, a UCF alumnus and Central Florida Coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said. "So it’s not a question of the animal rights community versus the hunting community; it’s a question of right and wrong, and it’s wrong to continue to kill bears just for the sake of shooting them. If you respect bears, and you love bears, you shoot them with cameras, not high-powered rifles."

After 21 years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is lifting the statewide hunting ban on bears from Oct. 24 to Oct. 30 as a means to reduce Florida’s bear population, which is estimated to currently stand at 3,500. As of Friday afternoon, however, 3,543 hunting permits have been sold, leading to worries among animal-rights activists that the number of bears killed within the first two days will greatly exceed the kill quota of 320 statewide.

However, the FWC aims to regulate the number of bears killed by requiring hunters to report their number of kills every day at checking stations. If the kill quota is reached early, the FWC claims it will end the hunt before Oct. 30, but not before two days have passed.

Some animal-welfare advocates, such as Elana Ramos, a UCF alumna who graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's in psychology, view the hunting as legalized murder and unnecessary as a means to curb the number of human-bear conflicts.

“The bear hunt is an unnecessary killing. These innocent animals have done nothing more than try to keep their homes, while we have imposed ourselves upon them. There’s no reason for this hunt. There’s other methods that we can use, bear-resistant trash cans, things like that, that can solve the problem without any need for the killings,” Ramos said.

The FWC also encourages improved waste management as a method of deterring bears from wandering into human communities. The FWC, as part of its Bear Wise Approach — an effort using comprehensive waste management to reduce human-bear conflicts — recommends that residents either purchase bear-resistant trash cans, use trash can sheds or electric fences, modify their own trash cans, or keep their trash cans inside their garages until the morning of pickup.

Besides the trash issue, there was also a frequently voiced concern that plagued the minds of animal-welfare advocates. Likening the situation to the controversial incident involving Cecil the lion, who was lured away from Hwange Game Reserve in Zimbabwe and killed by illegal hunters, some advocates doubt hunters will bother ensuring the hunted bears are killed instantly and not left to suffer on their own.

“If a bear gets wounded and he disappears into the thick shrub and there are no dogs that can track him down, that bear can suffer for quite a while,” Paul Eberle, 70, a retired nursing assistant and animal-welfare advocate said. “If they make the kill right away, then he doesn’t suffer, but how many hunters will make the kill right away?”

Many of the animal-rights activists participated simply because they consider the hunting of Florida’s bears unfair and cruel.

“These bears have done absolutely nothing wrong. These bears are under a tremendous amount of pressure from development, from roadways being built in their communities, and from the FWC itself,” Wilson said.

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Gabby Baquero is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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