A rare home invasion by one of North Carolina's black bears started when the animal "broke through a garage door" and began dragging food out of a deep freeze in the garage, reports the Highlander newspaper.
But things turned dangerous when the bear discovered a way into the residential part of the house, the newspaper reports.
That's where it was shot by a man who only later learned he had killed a mama bear with cubs not far away, state officials say.
The shooting happened April 20 inside a home in the Highland Falls area of western North Carolina, and a search continues for one or more of the orphaned cubs.
Details have not been released as to what exactly occurred when the bear and a man came face to face in the home, but it ended with gunfire, said Michael Carraway, a black bear biologist with NC Wildlife Resources. He says it's also unclear if the homeowner did the shooting or a caretaker. Either way, the man contacted state officials before pulling the trigger, Carraway said.
“The homeowner was not given 'permission' to shoot the bear, but was advised that he was within his legal rights to kill the bear if it was breaking into the house,” Carraway said. “At the time, (he) thought it was a male bear and didn’t see any cubs.”
A wildlife biologist retrieved the dead bear and determined it was a female and likely had cubs, which had been reported lingering in the area, Carraway said in an email.
The name of the shooter was not released, and state officials have not said if anyone was injured in the break-in.
Jennifer Royce, community manager of Highlands Falls Community Association, told the Highlander it was “the third time the bear had entered the home.”She says it was a caretaker who killed it, the newspaper reported. Royce was out of the office Friday and could not be reached by the Charlotte Observer.
Cynthia Strain, black bear safety activist in the Highlands area, said in a Facebook post that the incident occurred in Highland Falls Country Club, which is in a part of the state where bears are common. It is rumored the bear had as many as four cubs, she posted, including two seen wandering in the Spruce Lane area of the community.
Carraway said state agents have found proof of only two cubs, however.
One was captured May 6 and transferred to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s orphan cub rehabilitation program, he said.
"It will be in the hands of a rehabilitator until it is fully weaned and then it will be transferred to a holding facility (probably around Oct. 1) where it will only associate with other bears for the next 9 months,” Carraway said.
"The other cub, if there was one, has not been seen in the community for at least a week. We have advised the community to keep an eye out for any more cubs that seem to be orphaned and to contact us if they show up."
There are currently six mountain bear cubs in the state’s orphan program being prepared for release this summer, he said. Four smaller cubs came into the program this year and won’t be released until next summer, he said.