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FWC: Rescued bear cub to be moved to Tampa zoo if mom not found

Smokey Junior found with singed fur in Lake County

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EUSTIS, Fla. – Florida wildlife officials say the bear cub that was rescued from a Lake County brush fire will be taken to a Tampa zoo to be cared for if they don't find its mother Tuesday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said efforts to find Smokey Junior's mother have been underway day and night since she was spotted on Friday near where the cub was rescued and the hunt will continue through Tuesday. Officials said on Tuesday the likelihood of the adult bear returning is doubtful.

In that case, SJ will be taken to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, where he will be cared for using the FWC protocols. Once SJ is bigger, he will be transferred to another facility that can rehabilitate him for release into the wild, officials said. 

"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," FWC said in a release. "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."

The 2- to 3-month-old cub, nicknamed Smokey Junior or SJ, was found Thursday evening with singed fur and burned paws after a 140-acre fire spread to the Royal Trails subdivision in Eustis.

The cub was found by Natorie Borst, 17, who said she heard the bear crying in the woods.

"He was just running toward us like he was so just so happy to get out of there," she said. "We picked him up, took him out and put him on the road, and that's when the forestry people came up and took him. I hope he's doing OK."

Crews said bears can usually outrun fires, but the cub is only a couple months old.

"His hair has been singed. He's got some minor burns, looks like, on the bottom of his feet, maybe his lips, but he's certainly survivable if cared for,” Ray Lovett with the Florida Forest Service said.

 

Officials said a bear believed to be the cub's mother was found Friday morning.

"We think she's probably just off in those bushes waiting for things to calm down," said FWC's Mike Orlando. "The best opportunity that we have with this cub's survival is to get it back with its mom."

Wildlife officials walked around the woods with SJ and spread his scent, hoping his mother will smell him and come back.

"The FWC is thankful for the overwhelming interest in this cub’s well-being and staff are working hard to ensure the best possible outcome for it," FWC said in a release.

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