Hiker who picked up bear cub in Oregon woods defends his actions

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A man who picked up a dying bear cub last week while on a hike along the Santiam River Trail in Oregon is defending his actions.

Corey Hancock wasn’t cited for rescuing the cub, which was sent to a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Lynnwood, Washington, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife warned him that it is against the law and bad for the animal to remove it from their natural home.

In a Facebook post, Hancock detailed the events leading up to him picking up and giving the bear cub mouth-to-mouth several times.

“I was hiking on the Santiam River Trail, after work, above the North Fork, aiming to check-out a waterfall I’d visited a couple times in the past,” Hancock wrote adding, it began to rain cutting his initial hike short.

When Hancock was returning to his truck he stumbled upon a bear cub.

“He wasn’t two feet off the trail, laying there on his back. Seeming by all appearances to be dead. 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 wrote.

From Corey Hancock’s Facebook page.

Hancock, who is an avid outdoorsman, immediately began to think of what could go wrong.

“A fear started to hit me. Wouldn’t his mother be close by? This was the kind of situation that ends up in documentaries about animal attacks. How many people have been mauled after accidentally encountering a black bear cub on the trail?

“I’ve hiked all over the Pacific Northwest, and never come across a bear before. It wasn’t a possibility I’d ever given much thought to, even though I’d seen signs of their presence on occasion. I definitely wasn’t prepared to deal with a protective mama.”

Hancock said he quickly snapped a pic of the cub before retreating to a short distance away.

“From my position by the cliff, I watched the cub, and scanned the area for any sight or sound of other animals. Minutes passed, with the rain pouring down on his almost-lifeless body.

“He twitched his arms a couple of times. This was the only indication I had that he was still alive. I knew he wouldn’t survive much longer under these conditions. But what to do?

“I was very aware that every moment of hesitation was putting both the cub and myself in greater danger. I thought about my own baby boy back home. The bear looked so much like an infant. Was I just going to stand there and watch it die in the rain? No… I needed to do something.”

Hancock made the decision to pick up the cub. He wrapped him “like a baby” in his flannel shirt, placed him into his rain-proof stuff-sack and carried the cub under his arm as he ran toward the trailhead and his car.

“We drove, heading toward my hometown of Salem, and I kept an eye on my phone. As soon as there was a signal, I pulled over to snap a quick selfie with the cub, which I posted to Facebook, captioned with a plea for assistance. Where could I take this baby bear? It was dying.”

Hancock wrote the bear needed professional help. Detailing how he performed mouth-to-mouth twice on the journey into town and to a veterinarian that would treat wild animals.

“I opened his mouth a little ways with my fingers. His lips and jaw were plastic and rigid… like rigor. I performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and on my third blow I could see the cub’s chest expand. I waited, what seemed to be too long, but then there was a single breath, and so we hit the road again.

“I had to pull over and administer mouth-to-mouth one more time along our route, when the cub seemed entirely lifeless. Somehow though, he managed to survive, even while his single breaths came at almost one-minute intervals.”

Hancock took the cub to Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center where a veterinarian there gave the cub electrolyte fluids and worked to warm the bear up.

Hancock said it wasn’t until the morning when he realized his rescue of the cub he named Elkhorn had become very public, and positive and negative messages flooded his social accounts catching the eye of officials at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“My understanding currently is that Elkhorn’s health is continuing to improve. Now the greater concern has to do with what will happen, in the long-term, to this cub. Because of the complications and dangers involved, it’s unlikely that they’ll attempt to reintegrate Elkhorn into his family, even if they were somehow able to locate the missing mother. Chances are, Elkhorn is going to end up in some kind of facility, whether it be a zoo, or a wildlife sanctuary.

“I learned that there are some rather nice places where the ODFW could re-wild a rescue bear. None of them are in the Willamette Valley, where he’s from, but that hardly matters. My hope is only that Elkhorn be allowed to survive, and to thrive, somewhere among us… preferably a place where he can have a rich life experience.

“This is the primary reason why I’m sharing the details of my story. The more public attention we can direct toward Elkhorn, the more favorable his ultimate disposition is likely to be. For now, the ODFW is taking good care of him in his recovery. They’re restricting Elkhorn from human contact, as much as possible, including visits from the press. That way, the chances of him imprinting on any of us will be minimal.

“Meanwhile, they’re exploring his options. Perhaps, through the sharing of this story, someone out there who’s involved in one of the better sanctuaries, or who has extensive expertise in re-wilding black bear cubs, will offer Elkhorn an invitation.

“The other reason I’m sharing this story, of course, is for those many people who have expressed their support for the decisions I made in that moment. I want you to know and see what actually occurred. Our relationship with wildlife is not simple, and it’s difficult for me to agree with protocols, regulations, or opinions that ask us to ignore one of our most beautiful virtues… our ability to not only empathize with other species in their suffering, but to also intervene and help them.

“When I chose to pick up baby Elkhorn, I ran because – in the moment – it felt like there was a big risk involved. I was, in essence, wagering my life to help that cub. And I would do it again. I bet most of you would too.”

From the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

From the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said a female bear cub was brought to their office in Corvallis on Thursday, after its den near Myrtle Creek was disturbed by a brush-clearing operation. The mother bear was believed to have abandoned the bear cub due to the continuing disturbance, and it was determined that the mother bear was unlikely to return.

Both bear cubs are of similar age, between three and four months old, the male cub weighed 4.5 pounds, and the female weighed 6 pounds.

On Friday, both bear cubs were transported to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, Washington, a rehabilitation facility used by the Department because of their specialized standard of care designed to allow young bears to develop without habituating to humans so they can be returned to Oregon for release into the wild.

“We’ll receive these cubs as unhabituated and year-old bears sometime between March and June of 2018,” Colin Gillin said. “And they’ll be between 100 and 150 pounds at the time of release.”