By Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
An employee at a ranch off Fairview Road in Ojai had an unexpected encounter with wildlife when he stumbled across a baby bear Oct. 12.
“He left it alone at first,” says Kim Stroud of the Ojai Raptor Center (ORC), a local organization which specializes in wildlife rehabilitation. Stroud says the employee, who wishes to remain unnamed, merely observed for three days, but when he could discover no evidence of a mother bear — like fresh scat or paw prints — he took the cub to the Raptor Center. ORC crew members examined the cub, a female they estimated was three months old and a mere ten pounds. Aside from being underweight and dehydrated, the cub was healthy and alert, according to Stroud, so the ORC called in the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to transport the cub to the only rehabilitation center in the state geared toward handling bears, located in Tahoe.
“Bear caging is really, really expensive,” explains Stroud. She said the cub will be cared for while it hibernates, and then will be placed in a den where she will awake in the wild near Tahoe.
“Bears are hard to rehabilitate. When they are very young, they can get too tame, and become problem animals,” says Stroud. “Exclusion is the best policy for urban wildlife.”
Andrew Hughan with the DFG corroborates this sentiment.
“We never want to interfere with bears at all,” says Hughan. According to the DFG’s website, their preference is to “keep animals in the wild whenever possible. In special circumstances the Department has partners that provide support and services to help injured, orphaned or abandoned wildlife return to their natural habitat.”
Stroud says the ORC will always be one such partner. “We like to take all wildlife. We know what to do. We are licensed first responders, we have the contacts and tools to do immediate care,” Stroud says. “We are here for the community.”
“They did a tremendous job, it was really a great group effort,” says Hughan of the ORC, adding that the ranch employee did the right thing seeking them out. “We sure appreciate his efforts.”
Hughan maintains that there is no increase in bear activity in the area, merely an increase in the reporting of such activity, which is normal for the time of year.
“Right now, before they start hibernating next month or so, bears are stocking up on food, so there is a rush of activity,” says Hughan. “The weather is certainly a factor. It was a really dry summer, so there is less food in their natural habitat.”
Hughan adds that avocados are some of bears’ favorite foods, as it is rich in fats, and local bears are conditioned to know where avocado orchards are.
Perhaps this conditioning was a factor in a second, unrelated bear encounter when a local woman walking her three dogs at 7 a.m. Oct. 19 was attacked by an approximately 250 lb. mother black bear with a cub. The woman, also wishing to remain anonymous, was walking along a road north of city limits adjacent to the National Forest area when she encountered the sow and her cub. When the bear charged, the woman put her arms up to guard her face and received a one-inch laceration on her wrist. She also got abrasions on her back when the bear pushed her into an embankment, where she remained still with her head between her knees.
After the bear became disinterested and left the area, the woman called police, but did not seek medical attention.
A press release from the DFG said that the department would temporarily close some trails to hikers, although Hughan did not know exactly which ones. The release also said DFG would attempt to capture the offending bear. However, DFG called off the hunt Sunday when no trace of it could be found.
According to the DFG website, there have been 15 confirmed bear attacks since 1980, the most recent of which, prior to this case, happened in the fall of 2010 in Fallen Leaf Lake, near Tahoe.
If you encounter a bear, the site advises, do not approach it, especially a mother bear with cubs. If you happen upon one, it advises, do not run. Instead, make noise, and make yourself appear large by putting your arms in the air. If attacked, always fight back.
Visit www.ojairaptorcenter.org for more information on the ORC, which is having an open house Nov. 10.