Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care rescued a 5-month-old bear cub after its mother was found dead in Meeks Bay last week.
Staff at the animal rehabilitation center responded to a call June 6 regarding a male cub treed near the southern border of Sugar Pine State Park. When LTWC Secretary Tom Millham arrived on scene, California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials had already located the decomposing body of the mother and loaded it into a truck.
The bruin was likely killed by a vehicle, according to Millham. He estimated she had died about five days earlier.
“We’re not sure, but we assume she was probably hit by a car. There was no evidence of a gunshot wound,” he said.
Wildlife experts set a trap near the tree Thursday, but when they returned to check its contents the next morning, they found a coyote instead of the baby bear. They freed the coyote and reset the trap, according to Millham.
Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League, drove to Meeks Bay on Saturday after a report that the cub was climbing down from the tree. She scooped the animal up in a net and he was transported to the LTWC facility, according to Millham.
The 17-pound cub is now recuperating at the South Shore facility on a diet of milk, oatmeal, grapes, melon and peaches. He had a clean bill of health considering how much time he spent away from his mother, Millham said.
“His condition is pretty good. He was a little dehydrated but he’s starting to get his appetite back. We’ve had cubs come in at 8 or 9 pounds before,” he said.
The Meeks Bay cub is the first bear of the season for LTWC. The facility, which is the only wildlife center in the state authorized to rehabilitate baby bears, released the last two cubs from the winter about a week ago in Alpine County.
Tom Millham and his wife, Cheryl, run Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care — a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to returning injured and orphaned animals to the wild — from their South Shore home. Over the past 34 years, they’ve rescued 24,000 animals and released 14,000. And they’re no strangers to bears. The couple has seen about 50 of the animals come through the facility in the past 13 years, and has released 100 percent of them.
As the basin enters another dry summer, bears roam farther for food and human-bear encounters could become more common, wildlife experts say. But Millham thinks more visitors and locals are practicing smart bear practices, and that could make all the difference.
“I think the humans are getting a bit more knowledgeable. People are smarter about bears. The bottom line is that people have to take care of their garbage. If they do that, they won’t have bears,” Millham said.