He was told by many people that moving the bear could result in his arrest.
When hiker and photographer Corey Hancock was walking along Santiam River Trail in Oregon, he expected to see tiger lilies in a meadow-like area just off the path as he returned to his car when it started to rain. Though he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to make it to his destination because of the unexpected rain, he continued to remain observant of his surroundings and instead of seeing tiger lilies on his path, he saw something that shocked him: a baby bear.
The baby bear was reportedly a mere one to two feet off of the path, which Hancock had just passed by only thirty minutes earlier. He said that the bear hadn’t been there before, but that he must have stopped there at some point within that time to slowly let himself die.
“His lips were blue. His eyes were open, but unmoving and hazy. The rain was pouring down, drenching his belly. I might have seen a shallow breath,” Hancock said in a Facebook post about the incident.
His first thought was that of any rational person: was the mother close by? Hancock was quickly overcome with fear, so he snapped a quick photo of the bear and retreated downhill to observe from a distance and see if the mama bear returned. With no indication that there was another animal around, and seeing the baby get closer to death as the rain hit his belly, Hancock decided he needed to help.
Hancock sprang into action, running towards the bear, wrapping him up in his flannel shirt, and sprinting the remaining mile and a half to his vehicle. Once they were there, Hancock sped off in search of signal for his phone so he could post an online plea for help and suggestions on what to do. Unfortunately, the baby bear didn’t have time to wait. Hancock had to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation twice on his way to Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center, a place that someone on Facebook had suggested.
“Examining him in the Turtle Ridge facility, Mary [the veterinarian] could see right away that the cub was near death. He should have had a lot more fat on his body. He was starving and dehydrated, and would have had to have been in this condition for some time to end up so thin and weak,” Hancock said.
It was clear from this examination that the baby bear, who Hancock named Elkhorn because of the area that he was found in, had been alone for at least several days. He believes that it’s possible that Elkhorn had picked up on his scent and may have moved towards the trail in one last cry for help. Elkhorn was injected with electrolyte fluids to rehydrate him and put on a heating pad to raise his body temperature.
Mary took Elkhorn overnight to continue his treatment, but Hancock was informed in the morning that Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would be arriving to pick up Elkhorn after his Facebook post garnered so much attention, both good and bad. Hancock’s feed was flooded with malicious comments about how he should not have moved Elkhorn because they were unaware of the outstanding circumstances.
Several early reports reminded readers to never move a wild animal unless you’ve witnessed the death of the mother, which is great advice in general but didn’t necessarily apply to Hancock and Elkhorn’s situation. It was immediately clear that Elkhorn was within minutes of dying, and he hadn’t simply been alone for a few hours while his mother searched for food. Though many people scolded Hancock for not calling ODFW or the state police to handle the situation, Hancock is confident in the decision he made to rescue this dying baby bear.
Hancock’s hope now for Elkhorn, whose condition he receives regular updates on, is that he is taken in by one of the wildlife sanctuaries that works with ODFW so that he can still live a rich life. Since he is so young, it’s unlikely he can be released back into the wild, but Hancock hopes he isn’t brought into a zoo or another facility that has a small enclosure for this black bear. You can read his post here and spread the word about this baby bear that’s looking for a good home.
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