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Asheville bear cub seen in viral video is recovering, wildlife officials say

One of the cubs was found in a retention pond and taken to a licensed cub rehabilitation facility, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.
Courtesy of NC Wildlife Resource Commission
One of the cubs was found in a retention pond and taken to a licensed cub rehabilitation facility, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission.

North Carolina wildlife officials expect one of the bear cubs hurt during a recent incident at an Asheville apartment complex will be released into the wild later this year.

The black bear cub is one of two seen in a viral video showing a group of people pulling two bear cubs out of a tree. The video caused outrage among some and a petition was started on April 19 to “seek justice” for the cubs. The North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission says that the cubs were hurt during the interaction and one bit a human.

By Tuesday morning, the petition to “demand legal action against the individuals who grabbed and harmed the baby bears” was just seven signatures shy of its goal of 1,500. The Change.org petition was started by Taylor Adams.

“It is crucial that we hold these individuals accountable to send a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated. We urge local law enforcement and the District Attorney's office to press charges against this group and ensure they face appropriate legal consequences,” Adams wrote in description of the incident.

However, the law has already been involved.

Last week, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission staff were contacted by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department regarding the incident.

NCWRC staff arrived and were told both cubs had escaped after a cub bit someone. One of the cubs was found later in a retention pond and taken to a licensed cub rehabilitation facility, according to a press release.

“The cub appeared to be lethargic and frightened. It looked to be favoring one of its front paws and was wet and shivering,” BearWise Coordinator Ashley Hobbs said in a press release.

The cub is now being cared for by a licensed and experienced cub rehabilitator with the goal of releasing it back into the wild later this year, according to NCWRC.

“The cub’s condition is likely a result of the unnecessary and irresponsible actions of the people involved,” Game Mammals and Surveys Supervisor Colleen Olfenbuttel said in a press release.

BearWise, is a national organization that “helps people live responsibly with black bears.” BearWise tip number one: Never feed or approach bears.

The other cub has not been located.

“Our hope is it was able to reunite with the mother because it would not survive on its own at this young age,” Mountain Operations Supervisor James Tomberlin said in a press release.

The end of April is when bears leave their dens and bring their cubs out into the world.

“This time of year, mother bears are emerging from their den with their cubs that are experiencing the outside world for the first time and are very dependent on their mother to feed and protect them. People who try to capture or handle a cub are not only risking the cub’s safety, but (also) their own if the mother bear is nearby, as she may try to defend her cubs,” Olfenbuttel said in a press release.

“Even if you don’t see the mother bear, she could be nearby, and the cubs are waiting for her to return. By trying to capture a bear cub, you may cause it to become orphaned, injured or both, as we saw occur in this incident.”

Last year, sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were closed after visitors tried to feed a bear and another tried to hold a cub.

“We want to thank the person who videotaped and contacted the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, as otherwise, we would not have known about this incident,” Olfenbuttel said in a press release.

“This good Samaritan’s actions helped us rescue at least one of the cubs and her video provided the documentation we needed to better understand what happened.”

The incident remains an active investigation, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission. Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office said it is not investigating.

N.C. Wildlife advises not to feed bears because it encourages bears to approach humans. Especially do not feed cubs because they require a specialized diet. If you find a cub, call the N.C. Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 immediately. It is illegal in North Carolina to capture or keep a black bear cub.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.