On Monday evening, Corey Hancock, 41, of Salem, went for a hike off Elkhorn Road near the Santiam River, looking to take some photos. But when the rain became too heavy to take pictures, Hancock said he turned back and found something unexpected: a baby black bear, two feet off the trail.
“It was laying on it’s back,” Hancock said in a phone interview Tuesday, “barely moving. It twisted a couple times. Its paws weren’t moving. It wasn’t breathing. It was dying.”
Hancock wasn’t sure what to do and wasn’t sure if the bear’s mother was nearby, so he said he waited and watched the cub for 10 minutes. No other bears showed up and the cub still was barely breathing so, said Hancock, “I wrapped it in my flannel.”
“I ran back to the car,” he said, holding the bear, which he estimates weighed between two and three pounds. He said he ran for a mile and a half. When he got to the car, he told us that he “gave it some little rescue puffs like it was a baby.”
“It didn’t have any vitals that I could tell,” he said. “I tried to tickle its feet and it wouldn’t do anything.”
On the drive into Salem, according to Hancock, the bear was touch and go.
“It would take like a breath like every minute and a half,” he said. “I pulled over a couple times and debated on whether he was dead or alive.”
But, Hancock said, every time he pulled over, the cub would take a breath.
He posted about the cub on Facebook and people sent him suggestions about where to take it. Finally, someone from Turtle Ridge Wildlife Rehab, which was closed, opened up to accept the bear.
When Hancock arrived at Turtle Ridge, he said, an employee put the cub on on a heat blanket and injected him with some electrolytes.
“He start warming up and breathing better,” Hancock said.
He said he called Turtle Ridge at 6 a.m. Tuesday and the rehab facility said they stayed up all night and the cub was hydrated and starting to move around.
Hancock said he visited Turtle Ridge later in the morning and saw the cub, which was active, “growling and biting on his cage.”
The cub, a male which Hancock named Elkhorn, is now in the custody of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
While ODFW said they didn’t want to speculate on the exact situation of Hancock’s cub, they told us Tuesday morning that people frequently find baby animals in the woods in the spring and “rescue” them, when they don’t in fact need to be rescued.
“We advise people to never assume a young animal is orphaned unless they saw the mother die,” Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for ODFW told us. “It is quite common for young to temporarily be left alone in the wild.”
“We see this happen a lot in the spring,” Dennehy said, “with all sorts of young animals including birds, deer fawns and elk calves, and even cougar kittens, getting picked up because people assume they are orphaned.
“Removing young animals from the wild is not a good thing to do for them. These animals miss the chance to learn important survival skills from their parent.”
Animals that are taken from their habitats have a tough road ahead, Dennehy said. That future can include being reintroduced into the wild, spending time in a rehabilitation center, or even a lifetime of captivity in a zoo.
For a bear in Oregon, this can be especially complicated since there are no licensed bear rehab facilities in the state.
“Because it’s bad for wildlife and can be dangerous for people,” Dennehy said, “it’s also against the law.”
Dennehy doesn’t know what will happen yet with Hancock’s cub but she emphasized that if people come across what appears to be an abandoned baby animal in the forest, they should call ODFW at (503) 947-6000, or the Oregon State Police, or a registered wildlife rehabber before attempting to move the animal.
“Never assume,” she said. “The mother might be coming back for it.”
— Lizzy Acker
503-221-8052 firstname.lastname@example.org, @lizzzyacker