British Columbia

Orphaned bear cub that received CPR has died: conservation service

The B.C. Conservation Service says the bear cub said to have received CPR on June 26 has now died. Its sibling is "doing well" at a rehabilitation centre in Langley, B.C.

'When I saw it hanging there dead I was like, 'I have to do something''

Ronnie Dean Harris alongside one of two bear cubs he found orphaned at the side of the road. He says he needed to revive one of them by performing CPR. (Angelina Hopkins Rose)

UPDATE — July 2, 2019: The B.C. Conservation Service says the bear cub said to have received CPR on June 26 has now died. Its sibling is "doing well" at a rehabilitation centre in Langley, B.C.

When Ronnie Dean Harris saw a dead black bear along Highway 1 south of Lytton, B.C., he never expected that he would shortly be delivering CPR to an unconscious black bear cub.

Thanks to the efforts of Harris, volunteers at a local black bear committee and provincial conservation officers, two orphaned black bear cubs are now on their way to a rehabilitation centre in Langley.

"I'm just glad that they [the cubs] are being helped and they have a bit of a chance," said Harris.

After first seeing the adult bear's carcass on Wednesday, Harris initially continued driving. But his conscience began to eat away at him. He turned around to lay some tobacco on its body.

"In our indigenous cultures, it helps the spirit of these animals have a better transition," he said.

As he pulled over, he saw a small scruff of black fur peak over the guardrail and scurry away. He got out of his car to take a better look and saw a second bear cub up a nearby tree. The first cub then climbed up the tree, as well.

The bears are estimated to be less than four months old. (Ronnie Dean Harris)

Harris made a number of calls to local wildlife societies and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. While he was waiting to be called back, the cubs began to climb down the tree. He noticed one of them had something caught around its neck.

"It was struggling and fighting a little bit," said Harris, who went back to his car to get a blade to free it.

But when he returned, he says the bear was hanging unconscious from the tree.

"When I saw it hanging there dead I was like, 'I have to do something,'" said Harris.

He cut it down and untied what looked like a thin rubber cord from a blown-out tire from around its neck. But, the cub was unresponsive.

Harris says a cord that looked like it was a piece of blown-out tire was wrapped around the bear cub's neck. (Ronnie Dean Harris)

Harris says he placed it on its side and began giving it chest compressions and pleading for it to be OK. After about a half-dozen compressions, the cub let out a small gasp.

"It was just a reaction," he said. "I've never even done CPR [before]."

As soon as they made eye contact, Harris says the cub ran off.

Capturing the cubs

Harris eventually heard back from the BC Conservation Officer Service who told him to call back if there was another sighting.

Through a Facebook post, Lydia Koot from Hope Mountain Black Bear Committee got in touch with Harris and offered to help. Her group owns bear cub traps and often works with conservation officers.

On Saturday, Koot and Harris spotted one of the cubs return to its mother's body to try and suckle, so they placed a trap and alerted the officers. 

"Sometimes the traps can take weeks," said Koot, but, within hours, they had caught the first cub.

"We were lucky."

They were later able to catch the second cub, as well.

Koot says the cubs weighed around six kgs and were likely no more than four months old.

The first cub was extremely agitated and frightened inside the trap, "screaming like crazy." But when they opened the kennel to allow the cub siblings to be together, the two snuggled together and instantly calmed down.

The bears were eventually captured and reunited. They're now being transferred to a rehabilitation centre in Langley. (Angelina Hopkins Rose)

"This whole story was just absolutely heartbreaking," said Koot. "But, it was meant to be for all of us to come together and rescue those two cubs."

She said she has no doubt that had Harris not stopped when he saw the mother bear's dead body, the cubs would have met the same fate.

'It was a very dangerous thing to do'

Once the adrenaline had faded and Harris had a moment to reflect, he recognized the severity of his actions.

"It was a very dangerous thing to do. It was a wild animal," he said. "But I didn't want that poor little thing to die in front of me."

Still, he says no one should attempt this with wildlife.

The cubs are now on their way to the Critter Care Wildlife Society in Langley where Harris says they will be rehabilitated before eventually being released back into the wild.

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