Orphaned cub on WCU campus will eventually return to the wild

The lone black bear cub found on the Western Carolina University campus on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 26, will spend time at a N.C. wildlife rehabilitation facility as part of an effort to eventually release it back into the wild.

“The cub appeared to be in excellent health and should make a good transition to his new surroundings,” said Tammi Hudson, WCU emergency manager.

The cub, believed to be orphaned, will spend approximately six to eight months in a rehabilitation facility, where it will gain weight and mature enough to begin the process of being acclimated back into the wild, said Mike Carraway, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Carraway took custody of the cub after its capture by Jackson County animal control officer Christopher Tyson, who in a feat of daring followed the animal up a tree and secured it with a catch pole. WCU police and emergency management staff also responded to the incident, which drew a crowd of students and other onlookers. Students who found the cub sleeping outside Reid Gymnasium alerted university personnel to its presence.

The cub is male and is probably about 9 months old and weighs 16 pounds, with bears that age typically weighing 40 to 50 pounds, Carraway said. Cubs can be small for various reasons, such as if a mother has multiple offspring, but this cub may have been without a mother for a month or more.

“We don’t have any indication that there’s a mother anywhere around. If we thought there was a mother around, we would have left it alone. The bear was captured because it was deemed too small for it to be out on its own,” said Carraway, adding that the cub “obviously was distressed because it showed up on campus.” After its capture, the cub devoured the food it was offered, he said.

Bear activity in Western North Carolina is high this fall. Carraway has seen an increased occurrence of orphaned bears in general, and there have been multiple bear sightings on the WCU campus. A mother and cub were seen on campus Sept. 17, and there were two sightings Sept. 20, with a single black bear spotted and then a mother and two cubs.

In a campuswide message after the cub’s capture, Hudson reminded individuals not to approach, follow or feed bears. She also discourages photographing or otherwise recording bears, as “this could scare the bear and cause it to become aggressive,” she said. “If you see a bear on campus, report it to WCU police immediately, and then leave the area.”

To report a bear sighting, call WCU police at 828-227-8911.