It tugs at one’s heartstrings to see orphaned animals, and it tugs doubly hard when those animals are bear cubs.
Perhaps that’s why emotions ran so high a week ago, when the director of a Pocahontas County animal-rescue facility alleged on Facebook that several cubs she was caring for were orphaned when their mothers were run off by hunters training bear dogs, or were killed by turkey hunters.
The response, predictably, got pretty heated.
Hunters, especially bear hunters, posted indignant denials that any such thing could have taken place. Turkey hunters, while less adamant, voiced skepticism that any sane turkey hunter would take on a sow bear with a mere shotgun.
Terri Bradshaw, executive director at the Point of View Farm rescue facility in Hillsboro, sincerely believes everything she posted was true.
“It’s an ignored problem in West Virginia,” she said. “Every year, we get more bear cubs because mothers are killed or run away by dogs. The [Division of Natural Resources] doesn’t want to do anything about it.”
Bradshaw said that at the time she made the post, she had five orphaned cubs in her care. One, she said, was abandoned when dogs ran away its mother; the other four were allegedly left behind when their mothers were killed by turkey hunters.
I asked Bradshaw if she had reported the incidents to DNR law enforcement authorities. She said she had reported one of them to an officer in Greenbrier County.
Col. Jerry Jenkins, chief of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Section, acknowledged that the officer had received the report and had forwarded it to an officer in Pocahontas County, where the incident was alleged to have occurred.
Bradshaw said the other sow killing occurred in Calhoun County. She said she didn’t know if the landowner had filed a complaint. Jenkins said both incidents would be investigated.
“Now that we’re aware of them, we certainly are investigating the complaints, and will investigate any complaints like this we get from anyone in West Virginia,” he said. “If anyone knows or hears of anything happening like [sows being run off by bear dogs or being killed by turkey hunters], they need to let us know about it.”
Bradshaw acknowledged that the incidents alleged to involve turkey hunters might not have been overt attempts to poach the bears.
“I think maybe they were cases of mothers protecting their cubs,” she said. “Often when that happens, the bear will bluff-charge [a human]. It’s easy for someone who isn’t familiar with bear behavior to interpret that as a threat.”
As for any cubs allegedly orphaned by bear hunters training their dogs, Col. Jenkins said the only incident of which he was aware didn’t appear to involve bear dogs at all.
“We got a report from the little town of Crawley, over in Greenbrier County,” he said. “A sow bear was in some trash, and some house dogs treed the cubs. I don’t think it was related to bear dogs.”
Colin Carpenter, the DNR’s bear project leader, said he couldn’t imagine a case in which bear-dog trainers would allow a chase to continue if they knew it involved a sow with cubs.
Before the Facebook battle over the orphaned cubs began, none of the alleged incidents was being investigated. Now all of them are. It will be interesting indeed to see what Natural Resources Police officers turn up.