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Rescued bear cub taken to Tampa zoo as search for mama bear continues

Smokey Junior found with singed fur after Lake County brush fire

TAMPA, Fla. – The bear cub that was rescued from a Lake County brush fire is at a Tampa zoo to be cared for as Florida Fish and Wildlife officials work to find its mother.

The six-pound, 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.

[PICS: Smokey Junior at Lowry Park Zoo

Officials spotted an adult female bear on Friday morning in the area where SJ was found and say they're "pretty confident" she is SJ's mother, but say it's getting close to the end of the time period where the mother won't take her cub back.

The FWC said they sent SJ to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa on Sunday to get the best care while crews search the forest trying to find his mother. If they find her, officials said they have a plan in place to get the cub back in time and will keep an eye on the mother to make sure she doesn't leave the area.

FWC said they have SJ's scent all around the area where he was found and speakers playing bear cub sounds, trying to lure the mother back.

"It doesn't look good, but we're still going to try," FWC told News 6. 

If the mother is not found, SJ will be cared for at the zoo using the FWC protocols. Once SJ grows to weigh 10 to 15 pounds, he will be transferred to another facility that can rehabilitate him for release into the wild, officials said. 

"Initial observations indicate the cub is alert and reactive with a good appetite," the Lowry Park Zoo said in a release. "The cub has mild singeing of the hair, but otherwise appears healthy and strong."

SJ is being housed in the zoo's new veterinary hospital outdoor holding area where he will be monitored by the team with minimal interaction to reduce the likelihood of imprinting or habituation, zoo officials said.