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Group caught on camera pulling bear cubs from tree to take pictures with them

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CSI for animals: A forensics lab devoted to wildlife 06:38

A group of people was recorded pulling two bear cubs from a tree in North Carolina on Tuesday afternoon, apparently to take pictures with the animals and leaving one orphaned and potentially injured in the process. In an unsettling video taken by onlooker Rachel Staudt, the group of around five people is seen approaching a tree lining the fence of an apartment complex in Asheville, where the two small cubs are perched on branches. 

Rachel Staudt / North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

At first, the cubs are partially obscured by the foliage. But, as the group gets closer to the tree, a few of the individuals reach directly through the leaves to grab hold of the bears and begin to tug until each animal loses its grip on the branch to which it was clinging. Someone manages to yank one of the cubs away sooner than the other. That person ends up holding the cub as if it were a small child, petting it with one hand, posing and smiling while another member of the group appears to snap a picture. 

Later, one of the two cubs seems to temporarily free itself and dart out from the area around the tree where the group has gathered. The cub runs over to the fence, stands up on its back legs, briefly changes direction and tries again before another individual comes up behind it and seemingly gestures to catch it.

A bear cub in Asheville, North Carolina, being prepared for transport to a rehabilitation center after a group of people pulled it from a tree to take pictures. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Ashley Hobbs, a special projects biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, responded after receiving a report that several people were pulling cubs from a tree to take selfies, she told CBS News in a statement. The agency's enforcement division has opened an investigation into the incident. 

Hobbs arrived to find the group of people still around, with only one of the two cubs present and sitting in a retention pond on the apartment complex property. It was lethargic, limping and had a low body temperature, she said. The other cub was no longer on the premises.

"I confronted the offending people while at the apartment complex and explained the danger of approaching and handling wildlife," Hobbs said in the statement, noting specifically that attempting to handle bear cubs can pose serious threats to both the humans and animals involved.

"There's always a chance that the mother is nearby and may attempt to defend her cubs," she said. "It also endangers the bear cubs. Handling a bear cub poses a risk of injuring that cub and increases the chance it will become separated from its mother."

Wildlife experts, including Hobbs, say the importance of leaving be any wild animal instead of interfering. Even in situations where a bear cub or another animal seems to be orphaned or hurt, "leave the animal alone and contact your state wildlife agency for assistance," Hobbs said.

The cub was transported to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge Center, a rehabilitation facility in nearby Candler, where, Hobbs said, it is now recovering well. She told CBS News that the cub will remain in the facility's care until it is old enough to be released into the wild. Bear cubs cannot survive on their own, so the refuge center will wait until the cub is a subadult — a range of ages between 4 and 6 years old where bears become independent of their mothers despite not yet being technically mature.

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