An unusually tiny bear cub with mysterious origins was introduced to the public Friday at the Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Ariz., after it was rescued from a residential neighborhood last week.
The cub weighed just 15 pounds when it was rescued from a neighborhood in Tucson, but seems otherwise healthy, and Arizona Game and Fish officials and Bearizona staff have no idea why he is so small.
“Bear cubs in the United States are all born close to January or February, so this little fella should be around 70 pounds this time of year,” Dave O’Connell, Chief Operating Officer of Bearizona, said in a statement.
“A 15-pound bear should be about four or five months old. The math doesn’t work,” said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish.
It’s also a mystery how the cub, now named Buddy, made his way down from the Catalina Mountains if he was orphaned or abandoned.
“If it got separated from its mother, regardless of why in the backcountry, how did a bear that small get all of the way off the mountain?” Hart wondered. “We would have thought that a bear that size would have been picked off by a predator. A coyote, a mountain lion, or even another bear.”
O’Connell also puzzled over why Buddy seems so comfortable around humans.
“The third part of this mystery, beyond the cub’s size and relatively healthy condition, is the fact that this cub doesn’t seem to have the normal fear of humans that it should,” O’Connell said. “We will never know the whole story, but if someone illegally fed this cub for months, it could explain his comfort around humans. It might also explain why he is so small.”
Despite the bear cub’s cuteness, O’Connell is adamant in reminding the public never to feed wildlife.
“If you care, leave it there. A fed bear is a dead bear,” O’Connell said.
Bears that become too comfortable around humans pose a danger and are typically euthanized when they enter into conflict with people in residential areas, but Buddy was spared that fate.
Bearizona said that when owner Sean Casey heard the story of the little cub’s rescue, he said, “Well, it is Christmas time and this cub is abnormally tiny, so I think he might be an elf.”
A Bearizona staffer replied, “Everyone loves that movie, so let’s name him Buddy!”
Buddy was officially able to meet the public on Friday, though he remains in his quarantine area for a time.
If you encounter a baby bear, it’s important to proceed with caution and respect for wildlife. Here are three tips to follow:
1. Stay Calm and Assess the Situation:
Remain calm and avoid making sudden movements. Baby bears are rarely alone, so it’s highly likely that the mother bear is nearby, even if you can’t see her. Mother bears are extremely protective and may perceive a threat to their cubs if you approach or make loud noises. Quietly assess your surroundings to determine if the mother bear is present and how you might safely exit the area.
2. Slowly Back Away:
Slowly and quietly back away from the area where you’ve seen the baby bear. Do not run, as this could trigger a predatory response from the mother bear if she is close by. Keep your eyes on the bear as you move away, but avoid direct eye contact, which could be interpreted as a challenge. Make sure you leave the bear an escape route. The goal is to increase the distance between you and the bear without causing the animals to feel threatened.
3. Wait and Watch from a Safe Distance:
If you’ve moved to a safe distance and are out of immediate danger, continue to watch the bear from afar to ensure it is not following you. Do not attempt to approach the bear again, and especially do not try to feed it. Feeding wild animals can cause them to lose their natural fear of humans and can lead to dangerous encounters in the future. Instead, once you are at a safe distance, you can enjoy the rare opportunity to observe wildlife in its natural habitat.
TMX contributed to this article