Money is coming to the Tahoe Animal Center where Burned Cub escaped

The expansion will include work on 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 round-the-clock care – the all at the place young Tamarack briefly called home.

Tamarack’s rescue-turned-escape story 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 feel-good 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, that little stinker wasn’t going to be caged in. He just wanted out.

On August 3, the center announced its escape, warning anyone who spotted it 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.

The center did everything it could to lock up the cub, 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,” he said.

The work paid off: two days after Tamarack escaped, 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.

“We could tell he all had the same markings. But he seemed safe, and once released into the wild, we don’t bring them back,” Erfani 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 got that defense…his instinct [kicked] 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] came from the hinterland, in nature. He has never seen a house, never seen a car.

“We like to believe he’s out there now in the wild, living the bear life.”

Benjamin M. Yerger