A black bear that suffered through three weeks of anguish due to having a plastic container stuck over its head is now safe and sound because of the persistence of a well-trained wildlife officer.
Shelley Hammonds, a wildlife officer with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) first received a call about the bear on June 28 from an employee of Newport Utilities that had spotted the animal near the water plant on Cedar Street. Witnesses concluded that the bear had gotten a clear plastic food container stuck over its head while attempting to forage in a garbage dump. Hammonds responded the next day and could not locate the bear.
The bear was not sighted again until the Fourth of July holiday, which is one of the busiest and most demanding times of the year for TWRA officers. Hammonds responded to the second sighting along with wildlife officers Scott Hollenbeck, David Sexton and Curt Henderson, who were en route to assist with tranquilizing drugs. Before help could arrive, the bear left the area and could not be located.
A similar trend in “near misses” continued over the next week and a half, which left officers with only handfuls of bear hair as the animal repeatedly eluded capture. On one occasion, Hammonds even got a shot at the bear only to watch the dart sail over its back and into the ground. She became very disappointed and feared the bear was going to suffer a slow and agonizing death.
Several days later, new sightings of the bear came in around the lower English Creek area near Cosby. Over 50 calls poured in through the Cocke County 911 Center, the TWRA office, and also to wildlife officers. Once again, the bear remained just out of reach of wildlife officers.
On July 16, Hammonds received a call that the bear had moved over to the Carson Springs area. This meant that it must have traveled over a very steep part of English Mountain or went completely around it. Hammonds stated, “I was utterly amazed that it had crossed the mountain and was still alive. Its will to live gave me a lot of encouragement and made me determined to help save it.”
The next day, Hammonds went up on English Mountain with hopes of crossing paths with the black bear. It was at this point that she received reports that the bear had been sighted across Interstate 40 near the La Carreta Restaurant in Newport. As Hammonds drove over to the area and down Sequoyah Road, the bear crossed in front of her vehicle and she was able to successfully dart it with tranquilizing drugs.
The bear eventually laid down in the parking lot of the C&C Pawn Shop where dozens of onlookers observed Hammonds — who is also a Registered Nurse, an EMT IV, and enrolled in Paramedic school — putting her skills into action.
Fearful that the bear in an ultra-stressed condition might succumb to the tranquilizing drugs, Hammonds and another nurse on the scene successfully administered intravenous fluids into the bear’s left jugular vein. She described the adult male bear in “emaciated condition” and estimated its weight at about 115 lbs., when it should have weighed around 200 lbs. Hammonds stated, “On every level he was in a deficit. For three weeks he had not eaten, had been breathing his own breath, and the only way he must have been able to drink was by lowering his head under water and filling up the jug.”
Amazingly, the bear made a full recovery and was released into the Cherokee National Forest far away from any garbage containers.
Hammonds is grateful to the host of citizens that assisted in the removal of the container and kept the bear cool and comfortable during the rescue. She is also grateful to Cocke County Baptist Hospital for providing medical supplies.
District 42 Captain Tim Sain and wildlife officers James McAfee and Marvin Reeves also assisted in the overall effort, while the Newport Police Department provided security at the scene.
Wildlife officers say that it’s not just garbage and litter that kill bears but also the habits of the landowners. Pet food and garbage must be contained indoors, and birds do not need feeders during the summer months when other foods are available in their natural environments.
Also, the decrease in last season’s harvest means there is a surplus of bears that will continue to move into areas where they are not normally seen. Tennessee residents must be prepared for increased bear sightings, learn to coexist with bears, and not enable them to become habituated to human actions.
Residents are also encouraged to recycle these types of containers and to cut them into small pieces to help prevent a similar situation in the future.
Hunter education class set Aug. 16 at Cove Lake
Ken Cutsinger will teach a Tennessee Hunter Education Course beginning Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. at Cove Lake State Park.
State law requires anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1969 — beginning at age 10 — possess proof of satisfactory completion of an approved hunter education course before hunting in Tennessee.
In order to enroll in a hunter education class, students must be at least 9 years old. Persons age 6-9 may participate in Young Sportsman and wildlife management area hunts without hunter education, but must be accompanied by an adult at least 21 years old.
Participants need to bring a pencil and their Social Security number to class.