Miami: More than 200 black bears were killed in the first day of an authorised hunt in Florida, a state where hunting the animals was banned for 21 years, officials said.
A total of 207 bears were killed on Saturday, the first day of the seven-day season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, said on Sunday.
Hunters killed nearly two-thirds of the maximum of 320 black bears authorised by the FWC for the entire state of Florida in just one day.
The limits were reached in two of the four districts approved for hunting in the first day of the hunt and no more bears would be allowed to be killed in those areas.
Hunting will continue on Sunday in the southern and northern parts of the state.
Environmentalists and animal rights groups oppose the planned hunt, which the FWC justified on the grounds that black bears had become a nuisance in many areas, attacking people and pets, and scavenging for food around homes.
The FWC said hunting would be allowed for at least two days, with officials evaluating the results on the third day before deciding whether to continue or call off the one-week hunt.
Officials estimate that about 3,100 bears live in Florida, with the animals moving into areas where they did not have a presence in the past.
Some 1,900 hunters obtained permits from the FWC, raising concerns among environmentalists that the hunt would get out of control.
The permits, which allow hunters to kill only one bear, cost just $100 for Florida residents and $300 for non-residents.
The hunt will stabilise Florida’s bear population, which was nearly wiped out in the 20th century and has recovered from about 300 animals in 1974 to 3,100 today, making the big predators a conservation success story, the FWC said.
Conservation groups and animal rights organisations criticised the hunt but were unable to keep the 1994 ban on bear hunting in place.