Controversial Mammoth Lakes bear recovering

By Leon Droin Keith The Associated Press
Tuesday January 22, 2002

LOS ANGELES — As many of his kin hibernate, a black bear dubbed Arthur is as active as the debate that persists over his fate. 

Middle-aged with a limp, and weighing just 309 pounds, the bear is living in a Department of Fish and Game facility near Sacramento. Its haunches are half-shaven, but the bear is still heartier-looking than it was when state officials took him in last November. 

Then, the animal was walking on three legs — holding up its right rear paw — and living in a golf course culvert in Mammoth Lakes, a ski resort town in the eastern Sierra Nevada that is home to about 30 bears. 

Animal welfare advocates had monitored and videotaped the bear for nearly a month while urging the state to do something about the animal. 

“It was an easy one to fix: Either kill the bear or help him,” said Steve Searles, who works with the Mammoth Lakes Police Department on a bear aversion program. 

The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for the bear to receive treatment. 

Fish and Game officials finally stepped in to help, but Searles contends the delay amounted to cruelty to the animal. 

He has submitted videotapes, letters and other evidence to Mono County prosecutors. District Attorney George Booth said last week he was examining the information but declined to comment further. 

Searles and others believed Arthur had a gunshot wound. But Fish and Game officials said they didn’t see one and initially decided to let the animal deal with its injury naturally. 

“It’s not like, ’my dog is limping, I need to take it to the vet,”’ said Doug Updike, a senior wildlife biologist with Fish and Game. “I don’t think that’s respectful of the fact that these are wild animals.” 

The bear was able to move around and even climbed 60 feet up a tree to get away from officials, said agency spokesman Steve Martarano. 

“We probably should have just let the bear stay in the wild; it’d be hibernating right now,” he said. “Once we put our hands on them, it’s not a good situation for the bear.” 

After the bear was captured, veterinarians found that a bony growth — probably triggered by a bacteria or fungus — was responsible for the bear’s lameness. They found no open wound but did discover three pieces of buckshot in its hip. 

Fish and Game officials said the shooting of the bear had nothing to do with its bone injury. 

But John Hadidian, director of the Humane Society’s urban wildlife program, said the bone problem and the shooting appear to have happened at about the same time. 

“The bulk of the evidence does suggest the gunshot had a big, big role to play in this,” he said. 

The Humane Society and other groups are urging authorities to find and prosecute whoever shot the bear. 

Veterinarians have put the bear on antibiotics and painkillers. Now it’s putting weight on its left rear leg, although it still favors the right one. It’s also living in a pen covered in burlap to minimize exposure to humans. 

State officials say they can’t release the bear back into the wild, and that it probably will end up in a zoo. 

“The bear was taken out of a situation where it was living in and out of garbage cans. Putting a bear back in that ... isn’t the responsible thing,” Updike said. 

Searles contends that Arthur resorted to eating garbage only when he became too weak to compete with other bears to find anything else. The bear should be set free — even if that means an early death, he said. 

“The only way I see to right the wrong that’s happened is to set him free and let nature take its course,” Searles said. “He is not afraid of death like you and I are. Nothing worse could happen than what already has occurred to him.”