ASHEVILLE, NC A North Carolina state wildlife biologist successfully released a mother black bear with three cubs on the morning of April 24, after her neck had been trapped in a plastic lid for at least four days. .
Justin McVey, a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Commission on Wildlife Resources, said he was able to remove the cap from the bear’s head after he found it walking through an East Asheville neighborhood around 10 a.m. and told him shot with a tranquilizer dart.
He said the agency has been working around the clock to locate the bear since an owner first notified them about her around 5 p.m. on April 21.
Video and photos from residential security cameras and from the Help Asheville Bears group show that the mother bear appears to be distressed by the lid, like a large container of dog food or birdseed, but is still able to walk and eat, with His three small cubs, 1 or 2 months old, follow closely behind him.
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Jody Williams, president of Help Asheville Bears, says in one of several videos posted on the group’s Facebook page that they had been using drones to locate the mother bear. Williams got close enough to the bear in one video to try to remove the lid, but the bear resisted her attempt.
The videos garnered more than 1,000 views and hundreds of comments from people distraught over the bear’s plight.
After learning that McVey had released the mother bear, Williams said, “That’s amazing.”
He had criticized what he said was the commission’s slow response, but later called McVey’s actions “hero stuff.”
“We’re all so glad they actually went out there and did that. I wish they had maybe two days earlier when we were sitting with her and I could have kept her there. But the end of the story is that they did. And we are very happy,” Williams said.
On April 22, commission staff placed two sewer traps, which look like giant barrels with hatches, in the area where the bear had been seen. Cameras were placed on the traps, and McVey said he had been monitoring them for the past two nights. He received an alert that a trap was deployed at 8:05 am on April 24.
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When he checked to see who had been chewing on the free food, it was just a raccoon, which he set free.
“While I was driving, there was no one outside. He was very quiet in the neighborhood. And there she is just strolling, not a care in the world. She was super calm,” McVey said of seeing the mama bear.
He called his supervisor to discuss whether to dart the bear. “Freelancing,” meaning when an animal isn’t in a trap, is considered risky because the bear could run away and run far enough not to find it, she said. There is also the danger of a person being injured.
They felt that the conditions were safe and that the time was right.
McVey couldn’t throw it in the optimal spot, the neck, because of the cap, so he went for his butt. She didn’t run.
“I was very lucky. She stayed there, the pups climbed a tree, I took the lid off, turned her over (I gave her a tranquilizing antidote), done,” she said. “And then she woke up, the puppies were playing, and then they all came over to her and I left.”
East Asheville is an area heavily frequented by black bears because of its wooded terrain and neighborhoods that can attract bears looking for food, McVey said. There are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 black bears in western North Carolina, with about 25,000 living statewide.
“This whole story illustrates the fact that we live in bear country, and it’s important that we be responsible,” he said.
Follow Karen Chavez on Twitter: @KarenChavezACT.