Press Release

NC Wildlife Agency Responds to Incident Involving   Harassment of Black Bear Cubs


RALEIGH, N.C. (April 18, 2024) – In response to the recent incident in which a group of people were videotaped pulling two very young cubs out of a tree at an Asheville apartment complex, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) reminds the public to never approach or handle bear cubs.  

On Tuesday, April 16, NCWRC staff were contacted by the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department regarding a group of people at an apartment complex seen pulling two bear cubs from a tree and taking photos of themselves with the cubs. NCWRC staff arrived and were told both cubs had escaped after a cub bit one of the people. One of the cubs was found later in a retention pond and taken to a licensed cub rehabilitation facility. The other has not been located. 

NCWRC’s BearWise® Coordinator Ashley Hobbs captured one cub and noted that it was in poor condition. “The cub appeared to be lethargic and frightened. It looked to be favoring one of its front paws and was wet and shivering,” said Hobbs.  The cub is now being cared for by a licensed and experienced cub rehabilitator with the goal of releasing it back into the wild later this year.  

“The cub’s condition is likely a result of the unnecessary and irresponsible actions of the people involved,” said Game Mammals and Surveys Supervisor Colleen Olfenbuttel. “Ashley and our enforcement staff searched the area for the second cub but did not locate it. Our hope is it was able to reunite with the mother because it would not survive on its own at this young age,” said Mountain Operations Supervisor James Tomberlin.  

This incident remains an active investigation.  

“This time of year, mother bears are emerging from their den with their cubs that are experiencing the outside world for the first time and are very dependent on their mother to feed and protect them. 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. “Even if you don’t see the mother bear, she could be nearby, and the cubs are waiting for her to return. By trying to capture a bear cub, you may cause it to become orphaned, injured or both, as we saw occur in this incident.”  

NCWRC wildlife biologists advise that a bear cub seen alone is rarely orphaned or been abandoned. Often the mother bear is nearby foraging for food and will return in a few hours, or earlier. Remaining in the area or attempting to catch the cub could inadvertently separate it from its mother and possibly injure the cub.  

The public should contact NCWRC if they suspect they’ve encountered an orphaned bear cub. If you believe a cub has been orphaned, do not attempt to capture it. Instead, give the mother plenty of room and time to reconnect with her cub. To avoid harming yourself or the bear cub: 

  • Do not handle it. 

  • Do not attempt to catch it. 

  • Do not remove it. 

  • Do not feed it.  

  • Do take note of your location and call the NC Wildlife Helpline (866-318-2401). If after hours or on weekends, call a district wildlife biologist to report it.  

After receiving a report of a suspected orphaned cub, NCWRC staff will determine if a cub is orphaned, and if so, are trained to properly and safely capture and transport to one of the agency’s licensed bear cub rehabilitators for immediate care.  

“We want to thank the person who videotaped and contacted the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department, as otherwise, we would not have known about this incident,” said Olfenbuttel. “This good Samaritan’s actions helped us rescue at least one of the cubs and her video provided the documentation we needed to better understand what happened.”  

And if you find a cub, do not feed it. Food is not often the first thing the cubs need. Cubs require a very specialized diet. Powdered formulas purchased from the store, or other foods (pet food, fruit), can severely compromise their health. “The rehabilitators know the treatments and specialized food needed for cubs during this vulnerable time. Do not trust resources on the internet about feeding and caring for a cub,” Olfenbuttel added. “Instead, call our N.C. Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 immediately. It is illegal in North Carolina to capture or keep a black bear cub.” 

Olfenbuttel added, “It’s imperative for the public to never feed a bear of any age. This will cause it to become habituated to people, making it more challenging for successful rehabilitation back into the wild. Last year, an orphaned cub was kept and fed by people and despite our rehabilitator’s best efforts, the cub was too habituated to be successfully released back in the wild.” 

And, while it may seem obvious to most people, always remember one of the BearWise® Basics, which is not to approach or try to take selfies with black bears, whether they are cubs or adults. “It often does not end well for people or the bear, as we saw in this incident,” said Olfenbuttel. 

NCWRC has been rehabilitating and releasing orphaned black bear cubs since 1976 to assure these cubs have the best chance of success once they are returned to the wild. NCWRC’s successful rehabilitation and release of three black bear cubs back into the wild was featured on episode seven of National Geographic WILD’s “Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina.” 

Visit the NCWRC blog to learn more about the black bear cub rehabilitation program.  


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