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 while 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 Tuesday to a report of people harassing bear cubs at an apartment complex in Asheville, they were told the two cubs escaped after biting someone, according to a news release from the commission. One cub was later found in a retention pond, officials said.

In the video that the committee posted online, we not only see people pulling cubs from a tree, but also one person posing for a photo. Then, after a loud screech, they drop the cub, which runs to a nearby fence.

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

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

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

“The cub appeared lethargic and scared. He appeared to be favoring one of his front legs and was wet and shivering,” Hobbs said in a news release.

The staff searched in vain for the second cub.

“Our hope is that it was able to reunite with the mother because it would not have survived on its own at this young age,” said Mountain Operations Supervisor James Tomberlin.

This time of year, mother bears emerge from their dens with cubs, who depend on their mothers to feed and protect them, Colleen Olfenbuttel, supervisor of Game Mammals and Surveys, said in the news release. By the time they are ready to enter spring, cubs under 1 year old typically weigh about 5 pounds, according to the National Park Service.

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

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

“I tried to tell 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 took, but way too long.”

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

“We followed the people who pulled the bear out of the tree,” Hobbs said. “We confronted them on the spot that day and let them know how irresponsible and potentially fatal it could be if that cub were separated from its mother, especially if it were torn from a tree in that manner.”