TENNANT, Calif. -- On August 9, 2021, the seventy-seventh birthday of Smokey Bear, Wildlife Biologist Sarah Bullock located a small little bear cub clinging to a burned tree after the Antelope Fire had coursed through the area.
Firefighters say that Bullock deduced that the cub was probably an orphan and appeared to be relatively uninjured. Bullock then proceeded to call the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to take care of the cub.
Biologist Axel Hunnicutt responded to the call the following day, sedated the cub transported him to safety, but not before the little bear woke up.
"He was a very quiet and very polite passenger," said Hunnicutt. "He was standing up and was holding his face through the crate looking at me."
Hunnicutt told NewsWatch 12 that they were lucky to find 'Smokey Junior' or 'Little Smokey,' as some people have called him, when they did.
"I was so happy we were able to get him out of there," Hunnicutt said. "So often these things are reported and they are never seen from again. So it was a really great situation where we were able to get him and rescue him."
Yesterday, Wednesday August 11, Hunnicutt helped initiate the transport of the bear cub to the Gold Country Wildlife Rescue Center in Auburn, California where medical personnel are treating his injuries and will help rehab the cub until he is strong enough to be released back into the wild.
According to Sallysue Stein, the founder of the organization, 'Smokey Junior' sustained second and third degree burns from the Antelope Fire on his paws. Staff at the center have begun treatment on the cub's injuries and even gave him a special treat to help him get acclimated to his new temporary home.
"We gave him dessert made of a fruit cup or fruit bowl all different kinds of fruit and he liked that," said Stein. "He looked really good this morning and he came right over and wanted his formula. He is happy to have his tummy full."
Stein says that right now the bear cub has been separated from the people working in the area, to make sure that the bear cub can adjust naturally to his environment and remain wild.
She also said that the cub's recovery and rehab could take several months as they want to make sure that the cub's injuries heal but also make sure that the cub is strong enough to survive in the wilderness.
"They have to be able to grow up and be able to defend themselves," said Stein. "Right now he is so little that he cant defend himself against big male bears."
So far this year, Stein says that they've taken in and helped more than 4,000 animals. That's a couple hundred animal increase compared to what they usually see. Stein told NewsWatch 12 that the influx in rescues can not only be attributed to the increase in fires and drought like conditions in the area, but also thanks to cutting of trees in these animals natural environments, leaving them homeless.