Rehabilitated bear returns to real home |

Rehabilitated bear returns to real home

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Pat Banner/Tahoe Daily TribuneThe 8-month-old bear cub is nestled into his den.

It hadn’t eaten in a month or drunk any water for two weeks. Then on Thursday came a needle.

The poke in the butt jolted the 8-month-old black bear cub out of its hibernating sleep. It snapped its jaw at the needle and the pole fastened to it.

The cub tossed about for a second or two in his second-story perch. Then silence reigned.

Two biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game watched as the bear faded into a deep slumber. So did Tom and Cheryl Millham, who operate Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

The bear licked slowly at the edges of his mouth as the drug began to work. Then it was time to carry the cub to a wire cage. The cage, wrapped in a royal blue tarp, went in the back of a Fish and Game pickup. It motored to private forest land at the edge of El Dorado County, about 50 miles from where the cub was found in July.

The bear was found at Northstar-at-Tahoe. It weighed 29 pounds. Today it weighs about 100 and is ready for wilderness again.

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“He’ll do great,” said Cheryl Millham. “He’s learned his lesson well and he knows which food to recognize in the wild because he’s had it here.”

The bear fattened up on berries, trout and apples while at the wildlife center.

The cub is the only one captured in California this summer to be rehabilitated and released back in the wild. It is the fifth bear since 2000 to be rehabilitated at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a nonprofit organization on the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe.

“This cub had not developed any bad habits that would prevent us from being able to move it,” said Patrick Foy, wildlife biologist for Fish and Game. “We don’t consider it a relocation.”

Nearly 100 percent of the time the agency issues kill permits for bears who develop bad behavior that leads to interaction with humans and consumption of human food.

This cub was orphaned by its mother and had not discovered the joys of a dumpster. Employees at Northstar-at-Tahoe called Fish and Game because the cub harassed customers for food and ignored the scare tactics and pepper spray of deputies.

About 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Foy and his partner, Jason Holley, found a suitable place in the forest to build a den for the bear. They enlarged a small hollow under a fallen log.

Before they tucked the groggy animal into the hole, they put a collar around his neck , which will allow them to track the bear for a while. Eventually the collar will drop from its neck or the bear will claw it off.

The area picked for the den was ripe with bear food. Foy and Holley called it “bear heaven.” The two men covered the bear with sticks and branches and drove off.

Pat Banner contributed to this story.