Appalachian Bear Rescue returns black bear to wild

June 2, 2019 GMT

TOWNSEND, Tenn. (AP) — Hartley, the 11-pound, emaciated and furless black bear yearling brought to Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend on Feb. 14, has made a remarkable recovery and is now a wild bear once again.

ABR and Kentucky state wildlife officials helped take the now 73.6-pound, 16-month-old back to Kentucky, where he was found barely alive along a mountain road just over three months ago. At the time he was rescued, he should have weighed at least 40 pounds.

It was starvation that caused Hartley to lose most of his fur.

Hartley first was placed in ABR’s cub nursery and then the recovery center. His diet consisted of a milk replacer and Mazuri Bear Diet food. He was able to be released into ABR’s wild enclosure on March 29, where he continued to gain weight.


“Maybe he knew he needed help,” ABR Executive Director Dana Dodd said. “That was also denning season. Maybe he decided the recovery center wasn’t a bad den with three meals a day. All he had to do was stand up and eat and go back to bed.”

He was the saddest-looking bear because of his lack of fur and low weight, Dodd said. It took weeks for his fur to show some progress, and now he looks healthy. She said the decision was made earlier in the week to return Hartley to the wild.

“It really shows you how devastating starvation or poor nutrition can be,” Dodd said.

ABR officials had to immobilize Hartley first so they could measure and weigh the bear before transport. After he woke up and became fully mobile again, he was loaded into a truck for the three-hour journey. A water hose was used to soak him to keep cool while on the road.

His recovery was indeed amazing, Dodd said. She said she initially thought Hartley might need to stay as long as a year, but he thrived in ABR care and has gone home with a much quicker turnaround.

Hartley was joined in the ABR wild enclosure by Sweetie and Daffodil, two female yearlings that also were in need of care. Hartley and Sweetie even had started to hang out together, Dodd said, even though both are too young to become parents.

Now that Hartley is back in the wild, another yearling at ABR, Tulip, will be joining Daffodil and Sweetie in the wild enclosure, where they can climb trees, forage for food, swim and act like normal bears.

Daffodil was the sickest bear ABR has seen, Dodd said. She was so sick she couldn’t even lift her head to eat, so curators had to tilt the bowl so she could lap her food. She also has become stronger since being cared for at the facility.


ABR takes in sick or orphaned black bear cubs and provides the necessary care for their return to the wild. The bears come from various states and are released near where they were found. Veterinary care is provided by the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Five cubs also are temporary residents here. There’s Beignet and Boudreaux — the brother and sister duo rescued from a flooded den in Louisiana — and the three ‘bearys’ — Blackberry, Bluebeary and Hucklebeary. They now are 4 months old, growing and as rambunctious as they can be.

“They go nonstop, 100 miles per hour even in this heat,” Dodd said. The five cubs have access to an air conditioned pen and a swimming pool.

Friday was a great day, Dodd said. Hartley is back where he belongs. Dodd said Kentucky wildlife officials said there are plenty of mulberries in the wild right now and a good crop of blackberries that should be ripening soon.

ABR’s curators, who monitor the bears 24 hours a day, know when it’s time for a bear to move on to the next stage, Dodd said.

“You could tell he was ready to be just a wild bear,” she said of Hartley. “He was ready to go.”