ASHEVILLE, NC A North Carolina state biologist successfully freed a mother of three black cubs on the morning of April 24 after her throat was trapped in a plastic lid for at least four days.
Justin McVey, a wildlife biologist at the NC Wildlife Resource Commission, said he was able to pull the lid off the bear’s head after he found her walking through an East Asheville neighborhood around 6 p.m. 10 in the morning and shot her with a sedative.
He said the agency has been working around the clock to locate the bear since they were first notified of it by a homeowner around 6 p.m. 17.00 on 21 April.
Video and photos from home surveillance cameras and from the Help Asheville Bears group show that the bear mother appears to be in distress from the lid – such a container of dog food or bird seed – but still able to go and eat with her three little ones, 1- or 2-month-old pups dragging close behind.
500 pound bear: Black bear, living near the University of Tennessee, moved by wildlife officials
Jody Williams, president of Help Asheville Bears, says in one of several videos posted on the group’s Facebook page that they had used drones to locate the bear mother. Williams came close enough to the bear in a video to try to remove the lid, but the bear resisted his attempt.
The videos received more than 1,000 views and hundreds of comments from people who were desperate about the bear’s situation.
After hearing that McVey had freed the mother bear, Williams said, “It’s so amazing.”
He had been critical of what he said was the commission’s slow response, but then called McVey’s actions “heroic things”.
“We’re all so happy they actually came out and did it. I wish they would have done it maybe two days before when we sat with her and I could have kept her there. But the end of “the story is that they did it. And we are so happy,” Williams said.
On April 22, commissioners set two culvert traps – resembling giant barrels with trap doors – 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 a warning that a trap was set at. 8.05 on April 24th.
More: Father and son pay dearly to kill grizzly bears under cover
‘Walk beware!’: Hot, hungry alligators go for solitary walks in Florida
When he checked who had munched the free food, it was just a raccoon he set free.
“When I drove out, there was no one out. It was really quiet in the neighborhood. And there she’s just moseying, not a concern in the world. She was super calm,” McVey said when she saw the bear.
He called his supervisor to discuss whether to throw the bear. “Free darting,” meaning that when an animal is not in a trap, is considered risky because the bear can frolic and run far enough to where she would not be found, he said. There is also a risk of injury to a person.
They felt the conditions were safe and the time was right.
McVey could not throw her in the optimal place – the neck – because of the lid, so he chose her ass. She did not run.
“I was really lucky. She stayed there, the kids went up a tree, I took the lid off, turned her over (gave her a sedative antidote), finished,” he said. “And then she woke up, the kids balled, and so they all came to her, and I went. “
East Asheville is an area highly frequented by black bears because of its wooded terrain and neighborhoods that can entice bears looking for food, McVey said. An estimated 7,000-8,000 black bears are in western North Carolina, and about 25,000 live throughout the state.
“This whole story illustrates the point that we live in bear country, and it’s important for us to be responsible,” he said.
Follow Karen Chávez on Twitter: @KarenChavezACT.