A homeowner defending a bird feeder shot and killed a mama bear in early June, leaving her two babies orphaned in what a Virginia wildlife official called an "appalling tragedy."
"This family had previously been told to remove their bird feeders and other bear attractants around their property. They did not, and this bear was shot for eating from the same bird feeder," Jaime Sajecki, leader of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' Bear Project, said in a statement for the Virginia Wildlife Center. "This is akin to putting out bait for an animal and then getting mad when he or she eats the bait."
The wildlife center said in a news release that the family was having trouble with bears eating from their bird feeder in Amherst County, Virginia, where it is illegal to feed bears either intentionally or unintentionally.
Wildlife officials told the family to remove the bird feeder. Instead, the family tried to "haze" the bear by firing rubber buckshot at her when she came to eat. But instead of using rubber, the homeowner accidentally loaded a gun with real buckshot, killing the bear, according to the news release.
"Even if this person had actually used the rubber buckshot as a hazing method, it would have been ineffective if he continued to put out the bird feeders every day. Hazing works when there is no reason for the bear to return — it needs to be coupled with attractant removal," Sajecki wrote.
Conservation officers collected the two orphaned cubs, both males, and took them to the Virginia Wildlife Center for treatment.. One had an injury on his paw which was stitched up, and the other "extremely feisty" one hurt his paws trying to escape his cage during his medical exam, according to the center.
“The two new cubs definitely seem stressed out by the situation … but I will say that they’ve calmed down a little bit since [Wednesday],” Brie Hashem, a black bear rehabilitator at the center, told The Martinsville Bulletin.
The cubs will now be housed at the center, though they will be kept separate from the other eight cubs in residence for the time being, WSET reported. They will still be able to smell and see them.
“The most important thing is that they have other bears that they can socialize and grow emotionally with,” Sajecki told the Martinsville Bulletin. After a few months, when the bears are weaned off milk and on to solid food, they will be released into an outdoor enclosure and then eventually into the wild, the paper reported.
Sajecki said there was no need to put out bird feeders during the summer months, and if people wanted more birds in their yards they should grow plants to attract them.
"Please remember these two needlessly orphaned cubs the next time you see bags of birdseed at the store. Also remember that the advice we give you is to try and prevent these types of tragedies from happening. Please help us keep bears wild!" she said in a news release.
You can also check out a live stream of the bear cubs at the WIldlife Center's website.