A Three-Legged Bear Walks Into a Bar

From a New York Times story by Christine Hauser headlined “A Three-Legged Bear Walks Into a Bar”:

A three-legged black bear wandered onto the patio of a house in Florida. He trudged by the pool. He ambled up to a fish tank and gnawed on a container of guppy food. Then he went for the refrigerator, grabbed two cans of White Claw hard seltzer and tossed away a third.

It was a typical day in the neighborhood of Magnolia Plantation — a subdivision of about 500 houses in Lake Mary, just north of Orlando — where the three-legged bear makes himself at home so often that residents have given him a name befitting a creature with just a trio of limbs: Tripod.

“I would not say he was the worst guest, because it is him,” said Josaury Faneite-Diglio, whose yard was littered on Sunday with the rubbish that Tripod left behind like the castoffs of some uninvited reveler. “He has a special place for the residents of Magnolia Plantation.”

People who live in Central Florida and in other parts of the state have become accustomed to visits by wildlife that wander, like bears and deer, or slither, like snakes, into yards, defying the man-made concept of property lines imposed on land abutting reserves and forests.

“Bears wander in and out of our community. We have learned to live with them,” said Margaret Summers, a realtor in Magnolia Plantation.

Other bears have intruded into the gated community, but only Tripod has achieved local notoriety. He is easy to identify, lumbering along on two hind legs and a single upper limb.

On a community Facebook page, residents share sightings of Tripod and his foraging exploits. He has invaded garages and sampled the leaves from banana trees. They watch his weight with concern and one woman even wished he would stop by her street. Residents have adapted to the bears by reinforcing their screen doors with Plexiglas.

“I should buy stock in screen repair as much as these guys invade my pool,” one person wrote of the community’s bears.

“Dude’s a bona fide celebrity!” another resident wrote after Tripod’s visit to the Faneite-Diglio residence was reported by news channels.

At about 5 p.m. on Sunday, Joseph Diglio, 13, was watching television when Bruno, the family’s terrier, spotted the bear and started barking. The boy jumped up, panicked about whether the bear would break in through the glass doors and recorded a video, which was shared widely.

“There ain’t no food in there, buddy,” Joseph narrated as Tripod reached into the cooler on the patio.

At the same time, Ms. Faneite-Diglio was returning home from the grocery store when she received a security camera notification of movement on her property. On the patio, Tripod had clamped the container of shrimp meal meant for the family’s guppies in his teeth before moving on to the outdoor bar.

“I found all the cabinets on my bar open and I found the small fridge open,” she said. “And three White Claws on the ground. He opened the door of the refrigerator and took the mango and strawberry.”

Unexpected visitors of the slithering, lumbering and crawling kind are part of life in Florida. Burmese pythons, Argentine lizards, alligators, peacocks, tree frogs and spiny-tailed iguanas invade gardens, splash in pools and jostle garbage cans. Bears and deer wander up to porches and amble into garages. Ms. Faneite-Diglio’s house has been visited at least three times by bears, one of which made off with a roll of cookie dough.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates there are about 4,000 black bears in the state, most of them concentrated in the central region. As communities for the population of 21 million people expand, they encroach on or fragment bear habitats.

“They are going to come out of the woods looking for food,” said Mike Orlando, the bear management program coordinator for the commission. “It’s hard to blame them. We push in, and the bears push back.”

In 2014, after a Lake Mary woman was mauled in her garage, several bears who appeared habituated and dangerous to humans were put down, local news reports said. In 2015, a bear hunt meant to curb the population drew criticism.

The commission issues regular advisories about how to live harmoniously, or at least without conflict, with bears. It is illegal to feed them, and residents are told to use bear-resistant garbage cans and to avoid unintentionally attracting them by keeping pet food inside their homes.

It is also wise to bang on your door and switch lights on and off before letting pets out. Grills should be kept clean. And beware the season: At this time of year, bears are seeking to consume up to 20,000 calories a day to prepare for winter and food shortages, Mr. Orlando said.

Residents sometimes call the commission to report a bear sighting, although Mr. Orlando said that was not necessary in most cases, such as if a bear is in a tree or wandering around looking for food.

Tripod’s apparent taste for mango- and strawberry-flavored booze was not totally out of character. “Bears will just test everything,” Mr. Orlando said. “He has probably bit into a can before and realized there is something inside. In this case, he targeted a refrigerator with White Claw and apparently he liked the flavor and drank them.”

Mr. Orlando said there had been sightings of other three-legged bears in Florida. Sometimes they get hit by cars, which badly injures a limb that eventually falls off, he said.

But that has not stopped the Tripod of Magnolia Plantation, whom Mr. Orlando has known about for almost 10 years and who weighs up to 300 pounds, from doing what a bear does.

“During breeding season he was hanging out with a female,” Mr. Orlando said. “He does things a little bit slower than the other bears but he is still a bear. For the most part he has been, for lack of a better term, a good bear.”

On Thursday, Ms. Summers, the realtor, was showing a house to a potential buyer in Magnolia Plantation when a bear ambled across the cul-de-sac in front of them. Her client was unruffled. “People are used to it around here,” she said. “It’s not an uncommon sight.”

Christine Hauser is a Times reporter, covering national and foreign news. Her previous jobs in the newsroom include stints in Business covering financial markets and on the Metro desk in the police bureau.

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