On June 6, 2012, the PAWS Blog featured a story about the wildlife center’s newest ursine patient. Found orphaned on a roadside in Oregon and weighing in at less than four pounds, this little female was the 78th Black Bear to be cared for at PAWS. She was also heartbreakingly adorable, and a photo of her sitting in a box while waiting to be weighed made national news.
That photo was taken on May 25, 2012. More than a year later, on June 4, 2013, I took another photo of the cub as we were preparing to tranquilize her for her pre-release exam. On that day, she weighed in at 88 pounds, but we had to gather that information while she was sedated rather than simply plopping her in a box.
The cub spent a total of 382 days in our care, but she was not alone. She shared cage space with four bears from Washington and two orphaned brothers from Oregon. Although she was the smallest of the bears in our care, she was also the feistiest. She routinely bossed her cage mates around, including the Oregon brothers who each outweighed her by 100 pounds.
On June 5, PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Emily Meredith and I drove the cub back to her home southeast of Roseburg, Oregon. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist who had rescued the cub from the roadside led us to a beautiful release site in the Umpqua National Forest. In all, the drive from PAWS to the release site took more than 8 hours, and apparently the bear worked up an appetite during the trip. Shortly after exiting her transport container, she began to graze on a patch of grass.
The bear slowly and cautiously explored her surroundings. She frequently paused to sniff the air as she tried to decide which direction to go. At first, she appeared to dislike the feel of the grass on her foot pads. She performed a somewhat comical, high-stepping walk as she got used to it.
Eventually the bear headed for the cover of the nearby forest. She paused to look back at us as if she were trying to determine whether or not we would attempt to follow her.
She then turned and disappeared into the shadows beneath the trees, fully embracing her life as a wild and free bear.