Money Arrives at Tahoe Animal Center Where Burned Cub Escaped
RENO, Nev. (AP) — The new pledge from private donors to match $500,000 in contributions for a $1 million expansion at a Lake Tahoe wildlife rescue center brings smiles to staff and volunteers, who have been on an emotional roller coaster since a bear cub treated for severe burns from a wildfire made a high-profile escape this summer.
The Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center is carrying out repairs led by California regulators from Tamarack — named for the wildfire that scorched more than 100 square miles (259 square kilometers) in the Sierra and badly burned the legs of the small — tunnel under an electric fence and fled back to the wild.
It was the first escape in the 45-year history of the center in South Lake Tahoe, California.
Two days later, volunteers spotted and photographed a bear cub clinging to a tree 12 meters high in a nearby forest. They became convinced it was the 6 month old escapee, decided to leave him alone and now believe he is fine.
The contribution announced this week by the Bentley Foundation and MH Buckeye might just be the happy ending they’ve been looking for.
“We’ve turned the corner,” center spokesman Greg Erfani told The Associated Press. As of Wednesday, they were just $180,000 short of the $1.05 million needed to begin construction in the spring and complete by the end of 2022.
“He’s going to build the first animal hospital in the Lake Tahoe area,” he said.
The center has continued to rescue smaller animals and recently released seven rehabilitated baby coyotes. But it has been prohibited from accepting big game, including bears, since the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in October that it needed to make improvements to its enclosures and fencing.
“Once completed, CDFW will conduct a site inspection and assess (the center’s) request to renew its agreement to temporarily possess and rehabilitate injured and orphaned black bear cubs,” department spokesman Peter Tira said Wednesday. in an email to the AP.
Erfani said supply chain challenges delayed immediate repairs, but the center should be fully operational by next month, bears and all.
The expansion includes the hospital with two large recovery rooms, surgery and X-ray areas, individual care buildings for different species and a small dormitory for staff providing 24-hour care – all within place where young Tamarack briefly called home.
The story of his rescue-turned-escape began on July 26 when a homeowner in Markleeville, Calif., spotted the cub crawling on his lap because his paws were so badly burned.
Photos of the bandaged black bear at the rescue center flooded social media and featured in international news coverage of the devastating blaze that forced thousands to evacuate.
“Tamarack was kind of the first ‘wellness’ story that came out of the fire. It was all destruction and heartbreak, and then there’s this little guy who survived,” Erfani said this week. “So of course this little stinker was not going to be caged. He just wanted out.
The center announced his escape on August 3, warning anyone who spotted him to stay away and report sightings to wildlife officials.
Another wave of publicity followed, less flattering than before.
“We have been lambasted on social media. People were mean,” Erfani recalls. “It was very emotional for us because we had a connection with him. A lot of people were really upset.
Meanwhile, the center was doing everything it could to surround the little one, even sending in heat-seeking drones sometimes used to find lost hikers, Erfani said. “We spent a lot of time and money trying to find him. Our fear was he couldn’t survive, so we didn’t give up.
It paid off with the sighting of the little one clinging to the tree.
“We could tell he all had the same markings. But it seemed safe and once released into the wild we don’t bring them back,” he said.
“He wasn’t happy to be contained, he was pacing a lot. So when we got him to a point where he could climb, that’s all he really needed. Once he gets that defense… his instinct kicks in.”
Tamarack was not like the older bears who, due to issues such as drought-induced food shortages, abandon the woods to scavenge through trash and sometimes break into Lake Tahoe homes.
“They become ‘urban’ bears,” Erfani said. “Until the fire, (Tamarack) was out back, out in the wild. He never saw a house, never saw a car.
“We like to believe he’s out there now in the wild, living the bear life.”