Bears have become a very big deal in Asheville. Pictures of them at least. As their natural habitat is being encroached on by increasing development, snapping photos of bears in the urban environment of the city has become quite popular on social media. But pictures of a certain kind of bear have been popping up a lot in recent months.
The urban legend of three-legged bears in Asheville has been given increased attention thanks to a Facebook page called "Help Asheville Bears". It has featured photos of three-legged bears, supposedly taken around Asheville and in other parts of Buncombe County. As the page grew in popularity, questions were being raised on how many three-legged bears were there in the area - and how were these bears getting injured?
Reporter Elizabeth Anne Brown of the Asheville Citizen-Times started digging into the photos, the Facebook page, and how prevalent three-legged bears are in Asheville? She sat down for a wide-ranging interview with BPR's Matt Bush about her story that debunked some of the myths around the issue. You can listen to the whole interview above.
After speaking with state and local authorities, including the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Brown reported that experts say there definitely are three-legged bears in the area. How many there are isn't really known - partly Brown reports because the creators of the Facebook page featuring the photos refuse to tell the Wildlife Resources Commission where the photos of the bears in question are being taken, out of fear that the bears will be euthanized if found by state authorities. The commission says it would not do that, and that most of the three-legged bears it has discovered are thriving despite their disability.
How the bears are being injured is another subject of controversy. Brown reports according to the state, most are likely caused when bears are hit by vehicles, a situation that could be more common now because of increased development and tourism that is encroaching on the bears natural habitat. That flies in the face of unfounded claims that bear traps (which are illegal in North Carolina) are causing the injuries.