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Video of 2 bear cubs pulled from trees prompts North Carolina wildlife investigation but no charges

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A video of people pulling two bear cubs from a tree in North Carolina as one person posed for a photo with one of the wild animals prompted an investigation, but a state wildlife official said Friday that no charges will be filed.

When North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission staff responded to a report of people harassing bear cubs at an Asheville apartment complex Tuesday, they were told the two cubs escaped after one bit a person, according to a commission news release. One cub was found later in a retention pond, officials said.

In the video posted online by the commission, people are not only seen pulling cubs from a tree, but one person poses for a photo. Then, after a loud screech, they drop the cub, who runs for a nearby fence.

It is illegal to capture and keep black bears in North Carolina, but these cubs were immediately released and commission officers determined no charges should be filed, commission spokesperson Anna Gurney said in an email on Friday.

“Officers with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission have investigated this incident, and, while dangerous and unfortunate, it appears to be an isolated event,” Gurney said. Officers and biologists spoke with the people involved about the importance of leaving bear cubs alone, she said.

Ashley Hobbs, the commission’s coordinator for BearWise, a program aimed at helping people “live responsibly with black bears,” captured the cub, who was in poor condition. The cub was taken to a rehabilitation facility with the goal of releasing it back into the wild later this year, the commission said.

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

Staff searched unsuccessfully for the second cub.

“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.

At this time of year, mother bears are emerging from dens with cubs, who are dependent on their mother to feed and protect them, Game Mammals and Surveys Supervisor Colleen Olfenbuttel said in the release. By the time they are ready to emerge into spring, cubs, under 1 year old, typically weigh around 5 pounds, according to the National Park Service.

“People who try to capture or handle a cub are not only risking the cub’s safety, but their own if the mother bear is nearby, as she may try to defend her cubs,” Olfenbuttel said.

One resident told The Asheville Citizen-Times that she was walking around her apartment complex Tuesday afternoon when she saw what was happening, recorded it and alerted maintenance for the complex. Rachel Staudt said she has seen bears near the complex before, but that people usually leave them alone.

“I tried telling them to stop, but they wouldn’t listen so I thought recording it might help get justice for the sweet bear cub,” Staudt said. “I’m not sure how long it went on for, but far too long.”

Hobbs told WLOS-TV that she felt frustrated after watching the video because she often preaches about the need to coexist with animals and to give them the space they need.

“We did follow up with the people who pulled the bear out of the tree,” Hobbs said. “We did confront them on site that day and let them know how irresponsible and potentially deadly it could be for that cub to be separated from its mom, especially ripped out of a tree like that.”

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