Sightings of three-legged bears worry locals

Bear crossing road
URSINE URGENCY: Bears and cars are increasingly coming into contact thanks to growing populations and higher traffic volumes. Photo by Bill Lea, courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountains Association

While local residents have responded with concern to social media reports of black bears with missing legs, an N.C. Wildlife Commission biologist for the Asheville area says his agency hasn’t received an unusual number of calls about injured bears. Vehicle collisions rather than traps, he says, are the most common and likely cause of injuries to bears’ extremities.

A group of residents under the name Help Asheville Bears is offering a $7,000 reward “for information leading to the conviction of whomever is responsible for these injuries.” According to an Aug. 20 post on the group’s Facebook page, at least nine separate bears within a 25-mile radius of Asheville have been observed with absent or severely injured limbs.

The campaign began after WLOS posted a video of a three-legged bear in Arden to its Facebook page on Aug. 17, according to Help Asheville Bears member Alex Williams. Other residents, including Williams, shared their own sightings of similarly injured animals, leading them to conjecture that the limbs may have been intentionally removed by humans.

“We don’t know who and how, but [nine] bears have the same type [of] injury, which can really only be caused by a trap. Bear paws are one of the items illegally sold to China,” Williams asserts. “This has to be stopped quickly.”

Williams references a recent case filed at Asheville’s federal courthouse in which Kathy Ann Cho admitted illegally purchasing bear gallbladders from sources in Franklin. According to the Greensboro News Record, Cho purchased the organs for $400 each and sold one for $1,000; bear bile, which is stored in the gallbladder, is used as a component in some traditional Chinese medicine.

Justin McVey, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s wildlife biologist for the region that includes Asheville, says sightings of three-legged bears are not uncommon. However, he says the commission has not received an unusual number of Asheville-area reports in recent weeks and emphasizes that traps are unlikely to be the cause of the problem.

“If somebody wanted a paw, they’re going to pick up one of these roadkill bears that we have so many of,” McVey says. “Most of the traps that are used these days are too small for that bear paw to even go into. If it was to snap on a bear, it might get a toe, but that’s not what’s happening.”

McVey encourages residents to reduce the risk of bear-human interactions by removing bird feeders when bears are active and securing all trash cans. Other bear safety tips are available at

Those with further information about injured bears can contact the N.C. Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401. Help Asheville Bears can be reached at 828-280-7600 or

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 5:42 p.m. on Aug. 20.



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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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6 thoughts on “Sightings of three-legged bears worry locals

  1. Richard O.

    So, like other good intentioned behaviors of big-hearted folks, feeding bears leads to more of the critters coming into populated areas where they have to cross roads. Obviously, this leads to the injuries as cited by the NC Wildlife biologist. He would have more accurate information as to the source of these injuries than speculation by the ad hoc organization.
    And I have no reason to believe that the Help Asheville Bears people are doing their best to discourage this irresponsible behavior.

    • Richard B.

      Sorry, last sentence needs correcting to say that I have no reason to believe that the group is NOT doing their best.
      I’m sure they agree that feeding bears produces negative outcomes for all.

    • Joseph

      Well, Richard O., if you read the latest on the maimed bears it seems you and Justin McVey were wrong.

  2. Ben Sherman

    It always upsets me when I see people crowding out animals and they suffer because of it

    • Lou

      Yes, exactly. Add to that idiots like the one in Bee Creek area who marches up and down the road with a shotgun, threatening bears, as well as the other moron on, who brags about chasing bears up trees and throwing rocks at them. Humans are the biggest threat to animals, and to themselves.

  3. Don Yelton

    lets just get rid of humans. We don’t need them do we. Last ones here are to be the first to leave. Bear population has gone from 200 0 to over 20000, They have no natural predator. The male bears will eat the cubs if hungry or the cubs are after their food. Mama bear would defend the cubs against a larger boar bear. Off goes the paw. They try and open the bear proof trash cans and get scared with paw under the cover, off goes the paw. You name the bears and feed the bears and now you got problems. Overpopulation occurs and nature takes care of it just like it did with the deer and disease. Ever hear of the lynx and hare. If not read an elementary ecology book and think. Do not swallow the next feel good story.

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