Animal officials in Oregon are reminding the public to leave wildlife alone after a hiker who discovered a bear cub in distress brought the animal to a wildlife center himself.
On Monday evening, Salem resident Corey Hancock, who could face charges for his actions, was hiking the Santiam River Trail outside the city when he came across the 3-month-old cub about two miles down the trail, he told ABC News today.
Hancock, who said he has been hiking the trail for more than 20 years, described the bear as "motionless" when he found it.
"I thought he was dead," he said. "He did kind of twitch a couple times so I knew he was dying or going through the motions of death when I found him."
Hancock said he moved back about 50 yards in case the bear's mother turned up and watched the cub. When the cub didn't move for about 10 minutes, Hancock said he decided to take his flannel out and "wrap [the bear] up and make a run for it."
Hancock said he then raced back to his car and drove toward Salem. Once he got back in cell service range, he posted a photo to Facebook asking for help.
"If I hadn't been out on the trails in the rain today, this little boy would be dead," Hancock captioned the pic. "I'm so completely thankful for today."
Hancock then brought the cub, whom he has affectionately nicknamed "Elkhorn" since he was found on Elkhorn Road, to the Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center in Oregon as recommended by someone on social media, he said. The center described the cub as "malnourished" and "lethargic" when it came in.
Elkhorn's condition significantly improved over 12 hours, the center said, and the cub has since been transferred to a wildlife veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for a full health exam.
The center recommends calling wildlife officials should anyone encounter animals that they believe may need help, but it thanked Hancock for his efforts in saving the cub.
"This was an uncommon situation and we appreciate Corey for trusting us with the distressed cub's care," the center wrote on Facebook. "We are also grateful to our amazing community of supporters whose generosity ensures Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center is here to help in emergency situations such as this."
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife advises people to always leave wildlife in the wild, particularly young animals.
ODFW veterinarian Colin Gillin told ABC News that taking an animal out of the wild is, in nearly all cases, not good for the animal, adding that there was no way to know "why this animal was on the side of the trail" and that the mother could have placed it down for a few hours to forage for food.
After evaluating the cub, the department said it has no plans to euthanize it. Elkhorn will likely go to a zoo or a rehabilitation center to be released back into the wild. Chances of reuniting him with his mother at this point are "very slim," Gillin said.
At the center, the cub will not learn basic survival skills from its mother, such as how to stay away from danger and how to forage, Gillin said, adding the bear will be at a "disadvantage" when it is released.
When you "take an animal in, none of those scenarios are better than it being with its mother," Gillin said, adding that with wildlife such as bears, mountain lions and deer, "the parent animal is usually nearby."
Gillin said that the best option for Hancock in this case would have been to contact ODFW or Oregon State Police.
It is illegal in Oregon to capture or keep wildlife in captivity, Gillin said. If convicted in court, the perpetrator could face a maximum of one year in prison and a $6,250 fine, said Michelle Dennehy, ODFW public information coordinator.
Hancock said he "gets" the law, and although he was not aware of it at the time, he may not have abided by it had he been.
"I can’t say for sure what I would do if I did know the law," the father of three said. "I have kids. That was a little life there that was about to be lost."
It is unclear if any charges will be filed against Hancock. Oregon State Police said they are aware of the incident and will ultimately deem whether charges are appropriate. Police said they have contacted Hancock and reminded him of the law.
Gillin doesn't blame Hancock for picking up the cub, saying "he did what he thought he needed to do."
A similar issue was raised last year when a baby bison was euthanized after visitors at Yellowstone National Park placed it in the back of their car because it looked cold. After the bison was brought to a park facility, park rangers spent more than two days trying to get the bison calf to return to a herd, but it kept getting rejected and ultimately had to be put down.