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 Bearwise.org.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 5:42 p.m. on Aug. 20.