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Orphaned bear cub seen in viral video being pulled from tree thriving after rescue, wildlife refuge says

An orphaned bear cub is doing well two weeks after she was pulled from a tree by a group of people apparently looking to take pictures with her, an animal rescue said Tuesday. 

She was taken in by the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge on April 16 — the same day viral video captured the group pulling two bear cubs from a tree in Asheville, North Carolina. One of the cubs was gone by the time someone from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission arrived. The other, the cub who's now with the refuge, was lethargic, limping and had a low body temperature, it said.

"Following a time to adjust to being in our care she was introduced to another orphaned cub that arrived previously. Both cubs are thriving and doing well in care," Appalachian Wildlife Refuge Executive Director Savannah Trantham said. "They are eating well and interacting with enrichment, doing all the things we hope to see with young cubs."

How the cub was orphaned 

It's not unusual for baby animals to be away from their mothers in the spring and summer, Trantham said. Many mothers will leave their children in safe spaces as they look for food. They return when it's time to feed their young.  

"Even though we see them alone and think they must have been orphaned or abandoned, in most cases they are right where they are supposed to be," Trantham said.

In the April 16 video, two small cubs were seen perched on branches of a tree near an Asheville apartment complex. A group of five people approached and several of them reached into the leaves to grab hold of the bears. One person managed to yank down a bear and was then seen on video holding the cub as if it were a small child. 

Rachel Staudt / North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Video also showed one of the cubs temporarily freeing itself and darting out from the area around the tree where the group had gathered. The cub could be seen running over to the fence, standing up on its back legs, briefly changing direction and trying again to get over the fence before another individual came up behind it and seemingly moved to catch it.

Ashley Hobbs, a special projects biologist at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission who responded to the scene, previously told CBS News in a statement that she arrived to find the group of people still around. Only one of the two cubs was still there and it was sitting in a retention pond on the apartment complex property. The cub was then taken to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge Center, a rehabilitation facility in nearby Candler.

"This case has understandably brought up feelings of frustration, sadness and anger for many viewers, and we hope the act of witnessing these shocking visuals prompts people to reflect on the very real challenges that wildlife face every day," Trantham said. 

Wildlife Resources Commission officers investigated the incident with the cubs. The individuals involved were all cautioned about the importance of leaving bear cubs alone. 

"It is unlawful in NC to capture and keep black bears. However, the bear cubs were immediately released, and officers have determined there will be no charges filed," a spokesperson for the commission told CBS News on Wednesday. 

Caring for the cub

Appalachian Wildlife Refuge has rehabilitated dozens of injured or orphaned bear cubs since 2020, it said. The cubs are cared for in natural habitats that are isolated from the rest of the busy facility.  

Orphaned bear cub
The orphaned cub is seen during her intake exam the day she arrived at the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge facility. Appalachian Wildlife Refuge

Caring for the cubs is expensive, Trantham said. It can cost more than $3,000 to get a single cub to a healthy weight. 

"If we receive a healthy orphaned cub at a young age, we easily see a $2,000-3,000 food bill with the specialized formulas, dry foods, fresh produce, and whole prey items they get in their varied diets," Trantham said. "In total, we spend about $20,000-$30,000 per season on the cubs we raise from food, and medical expenses, to habitat maintenance and enrichment."

The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge facility is closed to the public to limit human interaction with the animals. There's a small team working with the cubs so they can be kept as wild as possible while being rehabilitated. The team at the refuge expects the cubs will be released as wild bears in the fall.

"We always want to see all wild animals left in the wild and be raised by their mothers, but we work hard every day to provide a place for these wild animals to go for those that truly do need our intervention," Trantham said. 

Emily Mae Czachor contributed reporting.

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