By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press
RENO, Nevada (AP) – New pledge from private donors to match $ 500,000 in contributions for a million-dollar expansion at a Lake Tahoe wildlife rescue center brings smiles back to staff and volunteers, who have been on an emotional roller coaster ride since a bear cub being treated for severe burns from wildfires made a high-profile escape this summer.
The Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center is carrying out repairs led by California regulators from Tamarack – named after the wildfire that ravaged more than 100 square miles (259 square kilometers) in the Sierra and badly burned the lion cub’s paws – dug beneath an electric fence and fled back to the wild.
It was the first escape in the 45-year history of central South Lake Tahoe, California.
Two days later, volunteers spotted and photographed a bear cub hanging from a tree 12 meters high in a nearby forest. They became convinced that this was the 6 month old escapee, decided to leave him alone and now think he is doing very well.
The contribution announced this week by the Bentley Foundation and Mr. H. Buckeye may well be the happy ending they were looking for.
“We’ve come a long way,” center spokesman Greg Erfani told The Associated Press. As of Wednesday, they were only $ 180,000 short of the $ 1.05 million needed to begin construction in the spring and be completed by the end of 2022.
“This will build the first animal hospital in the Lake Tahoe area,” he said.
The center continued to rescue smaller animals and recently released seven rehabilitated coyote puppies. But it has been banned from accepting big game, including bears, since the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in October it needed to make improvements to its enclosures and fences.
“Once completed, the 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 in a report. -mail to AP Wednesday.
Erfani said supply chain challenges have delayed immediate repairs, but the center is expected to 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 at the place that young Tamarack briefly called home.
The story of his rescue-turned-escape began on July 26 when an owner in Markleeville, Calif., Saw the cub crawling on his lap because his paws were badly burned.
Photos of the bandaged black bear at the rescue center flooded social media and made mention in international media coverage of the devastating blaze that forced thousands of evacuations.
“Tamarack was sort of the first ‘wellness’ story to come out of the fire. It was all destruction and heartache, and then there’s this little guy who survived, ”Erfani said this week. “So of course that stinky little one wasn’t going to be caged.” He just wanted to get out.
The center announced its escape on August 3, warning anyone who spotted it to stay away and report any sightings to wildlife officials.
Another burst of publicity followed, less flattering than before.
“We have been castigated 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 possible to lock the little one up, even sending out heat-seeking drones sometimes used to find lost hikers, Erfani said. “We spent a lot of time and money trying to find it. Our fear was that he wouldn’t be able to survive, so we didn’t give up.
It paid off with the observation of the little one hanging from the tree.
“We could tell he all had the same marks. But he seemed safe, and once released back into the wild we don’t bring them back, ”he said.
“He wasn’t happy to be contained, 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 instincts kick in. “
Tamarack was not like the older bears who, due to issues such as drought food shortages, abandon the woods to rummage in the trash and sometimes break into the homes of Lake Tahoe.
“They are becoming ‘urban’ bears,” Erfani said. “Until the fire, (Tamarack) was in the backcountry, in the wild. He never saw a house, never saw a car.
“We like to believe he’s out in the wild now, living the bear life.”
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