Bears are part of the scenery here in Highlands and they are dear to most everyone’s hearts.
So, when an injured bear appears to be suffering, people get involved.
Sadly, on Aug. 27, a severely injured female bear about five years old was euthanized by wildlife technicians.
According to Cynthia Strain with BearWise, the injured bear had been seen around Highlands for three to four weeks. People said its tongue was hanging out and it appeared to have a broken jaw and was obviously in pain and starving.
“It was so small, people thought it was a young bear, but it wasn’t,” said Strain.
Lisa Shomper of August Produce said the bear was at the vegetable stand on the Franklin Road on Sunday, Aug. 22.
“We called wildlife because it was clearly suffering and walking funny. It was really pitiful and sad,” she said.
Justin McVey with the NC Wildlife Commission said they had been hearing about the bear for a few days and after the call that Sunday he sent a technician to Highlands to try to find it, but he couldn’t. Then on Friday, Aug. 27 they got a call about an injured bear under a deck of a house in the Glen Falls area.
“When we got there, it was so lethargic it couldn’t even lift its head,” said McVey. “It was emaciated and clearly starving to death and was way underweight on the verge of death.”
He said the humane thing to do was to euthanize her, which they did. Afterwards, they inspected her and discovered that her bottom jaw was shattered in pieces, and she only weighed 40 lbs. They estimated she was five or more years old because her teeth were yellow and worn.
“Typically, a female bear her age would weigh 150 lbs. and although bears have an amazing ability to self-mend, even living without a leg, there was no self-mending for this bear. The damage was just too much,” he said.
Ashley Hobbs also with the NC Wildlife Commission said that they don’t attempt to rehabilitate an injured bear over 20 pounds. People who call about an injured adult bear are told to leave the bear alone and let nature take its course.
“Also, it’s illegal for a citizen to handle a bear so leaving it alone is the only choice,” she said.
According to nature photographer Bill Lea, bears have an almost super ability to heal from wounds and fractures, especially during winter hibernation.
Hobbs said that’s true, but they can self-mend anytime during the year as long as they have food.
McVey said they don’t rehabilitate adult bears because adult bears don’t do well in captivity so keeping it captive, even if trying to help it, would be cruel.
“Handling it over and over again would be too much for it,” he said. “And reconstructing a jaw would not have been possible.”
Interestingly, McVey said people often think bears are bigger than they are, which may be why people thought the injured female was a young bear.
“The biggest bear I have ever come across in Western North Carolina was 570 pounds. But the normal size is 250-300 pounds.”
He said they do grow bigger in the piedmont and closer to the coast due to food availability.
According to McVey, the biggest bear reportedly found in those regions was 880 lbs.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper