LAKE COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say efforts to reunite a rescued bear cub with its mother will continue through Tuesday, but with each passing day, it appears less likely they will find the mother. Lake County firefighters saved the bear cub, nicknamed "Smokey Junior," during a brush fire last week.
"Friday morning an adult bear was seen near the vicinity of where the cub was found. At the same time, a veterinarian was evaluating the cub. The medical exam found the cub had singed fur and a few minor burns, but no internal injuries," said FWC spokesman Greg Workman. "The veterinarian determined the cub was well enough to return to the wild, if the adult female bear could be located."
Crews continued to search for the mother bear throughout the weekend, but there were no additional sightings.
Workman said the FWC keeps a list of captive wildlife facilities in Florida that may assist with rehabilitating cubs. One of those locations is at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, and they have agreed to care for the cub using the FWC's protocols, he said. Once the cub is a little bigger, it will likely be transferred to another facility that can rehabilitate it for release into the wild, Workman added.
The fire burned over 280 acres on Thursday, but no structures were damaged and no injuries reported. Residents were allowed back into the Royal Trails subdivision near Pine Lakes later in the evening. Firefighters said the bear cub was saved after suffering slight burns to its paws and face.
The cub weighs 6 pounds and is believed to be two to three months old. FWC says this is an age where remaining with the adult female bear is the best option for the cub, as it is still dependent on her.
"Rehabilitating young cubs is challenging, especially because of the risk of habituating the bear to people. Bears that are habituated to people can't be released into the wild," said Workman. "The FWC is hopeful that the guidance provided, along with the experience of the facilities and their staff, will result in a successful release in late 2016."