Orphaned Bear Cubs Taken To New Hampshire Rehabilitation Center
Several days after the shooting of a mother bear at a Scudder Road residence, her two orphaned cubs were finally captured by Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) on the evening of May 16.
After being attracted into humane traps with food, the cubs were sent to Kilham Bear Center, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center in New Hampshire. DEEP’s Facebook page subsequently stated, “wildlife biologists want to let everyone know the cubs arrived safely at the rehabilitation facility and seem to be settling in.”
The cubs’ arrival at the rehabilitation center ended an emotionally-charged saga involving their fate. The cubs are the offspring of Bobbi the Bear, a well known black bear who has been wandering the area for the past four or five years and has a Facebook fan page set up to post sightings of her, recognizable by her multiple #217 ear tags.
The two bears cubs, which are believed to be 4½-5 months old, were orphaned after Bobbi was shot by a resident on May 12. Ridgefield Police Department has issued a statement confirming that the resident was an off-duty Ridgefield police officer.
“We are aware that one of our officers was involved in an off-duty incident in which a bear was shot and killed in Newtown,” states the Ridgefield PD release. “The incident is under investigation by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and we refer all inquiries to them. We have no further information.”
DEEP Senior Advisor on Outreach and Engagement James Fowler said the shooting was still under investigation, and until the investigation was complete, it is unknown what, if any, charges may be filed. DEEP Wildlife Division Director Jenny Dickson confirmed that the shooting involved free range chickens owned by the resident.
Following the shooting, attention turned to the fate of the two cubs, with DEEP originally resistant to the idea of taking them in. DEEP officials on May 13 cited a desire to “let wild things stay wild.” They sent biologists to observe the cubs over the weekend to determine if they could take care of themselves.
But local residents, workers from wildlife organizations as well as town and state officials including Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and State Rep Raghib Allie-Brennan, were pushing for the cubs to be taken to a rehabilitator. By May 16 and with public outcry and national media attention growing, DEEP changed its stance and began attempts to tranquilize the two cubs so they could be brought to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Public Attention Concerning
DEEP Wildlife Division Director Jenny Dickson said during a press conference on May 16 in Newtown that two orphaned bear cubs were taken into rehabilitation because of concerns of how much public attention they had drawn. Dickson said the attention drawn to the bear cubs has put them in a “difficult situation” because the cubs could become habituated to humans, or food left out for them could attract other predators that could put the cubs in danger.
DEEP biologists waited in the woods most of Monday morning and afternoon, as the two cubs had climbed a tree and were too high to safely tranquilize. By mid-afternoon, DEEP officials had begun considering a Plan B, where they would set out traps baited with food in hopes of trapping the cubs after dark.
According to the DEEP Facebook page, however, the first bear cub came down from the tree at approximately 5:30 pm. The cub was tranquilized successfully and taken in. The second cub did not come down until a bit after 8 pm, at which time it was also successfully tranquilized and taken in.
“DEEP staff has successfully and safely captured the bear cubs,” DEEP Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble said following the two successful captures. “I want to thank the DEEP wildlife team for spending all day in the woods trying to capture the two cubs. I’m thankful for a good outcome and thankful for our team.”
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal was out of state when he heard the news of the shooting. He fielded calls from the public, media, DEEP, state representatives and even Governor Ned Lamont over the course of the weekend.
“I am heartbroken over the loss of the bear and the orphaning of the cubs,” Rosenthal stated in a release within hours of the killing of Bobbi on May 12.
Following the announcement that the bear cubs would be rehabilitated, Rosenthal told The Newtown Bee that while he “understood the process [for DEEP],” he felt the path they were taking to capture the cubs was “the right one.”
“I’m glad to hear that’s where they’re going,” said Rosenthal. “The cubs’ best chance is in rehabilitation. People can complain that things didn’t happen fast enough but I’m just glad that it’s happening and the cubs are still OK. Frankly, that’s everyone’s priority.”
Rosenthal said that “people love Bobbi.”
“It seems like we’re divided on just about everything except animals,” said Rosenthal. “We should celebrate that and try to do better for wildlife.”
Annie Hornish, Connecticut state director for the Humane Society of the United States, was on the scene Sunday and Monday as state officials attempted to lure the cubs from a tree to capture them for transport to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.
“Connecticut officials missed a critical window to capture the cubs over the weekend and were lucky to find the bears again on Monday,” said Hornish. “These frightened animals spent the afternoon high up in a tree, confused by the chaos below them. By evening, both cubs were safely caught, and we were told that they would be on their way to a reputable sanctuary where they can properly be cared for until they are hopefully ready for release when they are old enough to live like adult wild bears. They would not have survived at this precious young age in the wild without their mother.
“The total disregard for their mother’s life — shooting her multiple times — left two cubs defenseless and stranded," Hornish continued. "They would have depended on their mother for up to 24 months and that critical time was taken away from them. With their lives forever changed, let this be a wake-up call and harsh reminder that there are very simple, smart and necessary steps to coexist with wild animals. We must all learn to live with bears and to value their lives.”
At the May 16 press conference, Laura Simon, president of the Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, told The Bee that their representatives and a number of residents located the bear cubs on May 15 and attempted to get DEEP to respond to Newtown and capture the cubs. However, it was “five hours until they showed up,” which caused them to “lose the opportunity” to safely tranquilize the cubs earlier.
Simon said the cubs are too young to be on their own and “need their mother’s milk and protection.” She was “thrilled," she said, that DEEP was eventually onboard with rehabilitating the cubs and was “anxious to hear” where the cubs are sent following their capture.
Rep Allie-Brennan Involved
Raghib Allie-Brennan was among those assembled at the location of the cubs on Sunday, May 15. He expressed frustration that at the time, the state organization was still unwilling to capture the young animals.
He said that the cubs climbed up a tree and “looked dehydrated and exhausted” and were “waiting for their mother.”
He was happy to hear that pressure he and other state representatives had been putting on DEEP had changed their position and that he would “make sure to hold them to it.”
Allie-Brennan said there had been an “outpouring of goodwill from residents here and across the state.” He also expressed concern about the resident who shot Bobbi.
“It’s seriously offensive that there has been no comment from DEEP or Ridgefield about this,” Allie-Brennan said at the time. “I want to make sure that it’s taken seriously because it is serious.”
Rep Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) hailed the final resolution to rehabilitate the two orphaned bear cubs after their mother was fatally shot in Newtown.
“I want to thank DEEP for seeing this our way and shout out my legislative colleagues, State Representatives David Michel, Nicole Klarides-Ditria, Raghib Allie-Brennan and Anne Hughes for their caring intervention and the pressure they put on DEEP to rescue, not abandon, the cubs,” said Bolinsky.
“Thanks also to several animal advocacy groups for helping locate the cubs and being amazing advocates,” Bolinsky added. “And thank you to all the neighbors who rallied together in support, as well as Newtown Police and First Selectman Dan Rosenthal for having us all come together as a community, to take the most humane path forward for Bobbi’s cubs.”
Newtown Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason warned about keeping livestock on property unprotected. The shooting was connected to the bear reportedly attacking the resident’s free range chickens.
“It attracts local wildlife,” said Mason. “It’s like a McDonald’s for local wildlife.”
The owner of five chickens that she says she caught “running around town,” Mason said she keeps those chickens in a barn overnight to protect them.
Mason said the shooting was “very sad” and that homeowners should take more precautions so that they don’t attract wildlife like bears.
“People are trying to fault wildlife for being wildlife,” said Assistant Animal Control Officer Emily Whitaker.
Anyone who observes a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on DEEP’s website or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.