It seems we see more stories about the connection between humans and the wild these days. It may be because of how much easier it is to find information, or it could be connected to our need to escape the constant connection to technology. Whatever the cause, a family in Florida has spent decades surrounded by some of the most fearsome and terrifying animals out there. Their story shows that the wild is not something to be feared, tamed, or destroyed, but instead it is something to be respected and revered.

The Welde Family


The Welde family has owned Bearadise Ranch for decades in Florida. They tame and care for bears on their ranch and currently live with 14 total animals. One cub and 13 adults.

Taming of the Bears


The Bearadise Ranch is a safe haven for bears, but how they make it work is by learning about the each bear individually and and making them a part of a larger family. This is not an uncommon tradition among those that run rescues and shelters, but it is rare to see with such large animals.

Humble Beginnings


Over 90 years ago, Johnny Welde Sr. moved to the states from Norway to a ranch Florida. In 1948 Johnny Welde Sr. brought a circus of the animals to the States for his first tour, which was such as a success that it led him to settle in Tampa, Florida with his wife Tove and Conny, his daughter.

“He came to the United States in the 40s and did a lot of different venues over here and then in the late 50s and 60s he did a lot of TV shows and movies.” recalls Johnny III

From a Circus to the Big Show


“He came to the United States in the 40s and did a lot of different venues over here and then in the late 50s and 60s he did a lot of TV shows and movies.” recalls Johnny III

Johnny II, was the man that turned this into a business. Taking what his father started and making it a Hollywood staple. One of their bears appeared alongside many actors, including Lucille Ball during the height of the her career.

A Family Business


“My grandfather was performing somewhere and a talent scout saw me leading a bear around at 3-years-old and he said, ‘well if that bear can work with a little boy, then he can work in Hollywood.'”

Now, three generations later, things have only expanded in size and scope. Not only have they trained the 13 adults for appearances on TV and in movies, but they plan for their son, Johnny IV to continue the tradition.

The Family


Today, Johnny Welde III, his wife Monica and their son Johnny Welde IV run the ranch and ensure the fist Johnny’s legacy continues with an eye on conservation, training and education. Their son, Johnny IV, has been working with the bears since he was about three years old.

The Passing of the Torch


It was only a few years ago that Johnny Sr. passed away, which put Johnny III in charge of the ranch. What started out as just a few bears brought on by Sr. had become an entire group of 13 at this time. The key was to keep things going as they always had as the ranch was doing a very important job.

Don’t Let Me Down


Johnny Sr. started the ranch because of a love and fascination of bears in general, but it quickly became a way to keep the animals from going extinct in the States. While there is no formal training on record, it seems that the private ranch has been a training ground for extended family. As the number of bears grew, more family was brought in, and all that was learned by Sr. was passed to the rest.

Understanding the Danger


Bears are wild animals and not something that you keep as a pet. The Weldes know this all too well. In an interview, Johnny III had this to say;

‘We know what these animals are capable of and we could read them – we would never put our children in danger.

‘In the wild, bears can be dangerous animals – but the relationship we have with them is built up over years of living with them, 365 days a year.’

Sharing with the Public


Bearadise Ranch, which the Welde family ranch is lovingly known as, opens up for locals and tourists alike over the weekends to allow others to get a little closer with these animals which can weigh in at over 1,000 lbs. This is all part of the Welde family tradition of training and education. Essentially, the American version of the Irwin family of Crocodile Hunter fame.

Keeping Things Safe


While these animals can be extremely dangerous, the family has made it clear that they know what they are doing. They had their challenges, but they have shown that the bears living on their ranch are domesticated and trained. While not immune to mood swings, they are much less likely to do anything to harm humans.

More than a Business


 Johnny III continues what his father and grandfather started, working with advertising, commercial and movie veterans to help include bears in whatever is needed publicly. This has led his wife Monica to help develop an educational presentation and exhibit that stresses the importance of habitat preservation and conservation for, not only their bears, but bears across the world.

Living on the Ranch


Bearadise Ranch, as mentioned earlier, is where the bears live when they are not working. This is created to be a natural habitat in Florida where the bears can swim, climb trees and play in nature all they want. It also allows the family to put on educational presentations as part of tours, as well as photographic opportunities for visitors.

The Disneyland for Bear Lovers


Bearadise Ranch also offers a number of unique packages for visitors including weddings, birthday parties, and corporate picnics, which can add a level of excitement to any event. How many people can say they were married while surrounded by bears?

A Lifetime Commitment


While it may seem obvious, the Welde family has committed to keeping the ranch open from generation to generation. In spite of the occasional scare, the bears are like family and partly due to Monica, the work that the ranch does for these bears is too important to stop.

Keeping Afloat

Rescuers Without Borders

Even with their Hollywood work, the bears are not cheap to keep around. The ranch costs a pretty penny to maintain as well. This is why they offer so many different attractions, accept donations, and try to keep the bears somewhat busy. The work isn’t just for entertainment, it is for education and survival.

The Knowledge Behind the Care

The Welde family aren’t just a group of fans of the bears, though, they are licensed and know exactly what they are doing. They are often called on when there is an expert needed in Florida. This could be a lose bear somewhere, or one in danger. They expertise is second to none in the state. 

Even Without Her Husband Monica Continues On

Rescuers Without Borders

Monica has stated that she will continue to work with the bears as long as physically possible. While her 27 year old son has stated that he may want to pursue a day job, she has no doubt that he will continue the legacy. Still, in her own words, “I have spent 37 years with these bears and I plan to as long as I am physically able. I will work with the bears until I grown very old and feel confident that they will be taken care of after I am gone.”

The Tradition Continues

Rescuers Without Borders

Though, for the youngest Welde (27) it seemed like a day job was in the cards, he has abandoned those plans and is starting to take responsibility for the ranch to help his mother, and to ensure the legacy continues. Where it goes is up to the family, for now, but after almost 100 years of success, you can bet they will be around much, much longer.

The Importance of Conservation

Rescuers Without Borders

Across the globe, habitats of various animals are being destroyed at an alarming rate by humans and natural disasters. This means that we have to step up and do what we can to protect these animals that have been here for so long. This is why a place like Bearadise Ranch is so important. It helps us dispel our fears and understand that the animals are not actively hunting us in the wild, they are just scared of what we may do and have to protect themselves.