Each time Jo Gottschalk saw a young black bear limping through her Eagle River neighborhood over the past few weeks, she wanted to help.
“Folks keep saying, ‘Is there any way to get this little guy help?’ And now the little tyke is looking pretty weak,” she said. “So I don’t know what’s going to happen to this little bear, but somehow it just doesn’t seem right to me to just absolutely ignore its suffering.”
Gottschalk said she and her neighbors see many bears throughout the summer, but attention focused in on this bear around July 3, when it stopped walking with its front right leg. In videos captured by household security cameras, the bear can be seen hopping across driveways or roads on three paws.
Anchorage area wildlife biologist Dave Battle of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said bears generally are able to recover from injuries on their own, but biologists will try to evaluate them to see the extent of injury if possible.
“But bears do fairly well on three legs, and they’re really tough and can heal up from a lot of different things,” he said.
In cases where the animal doesn’t seem like it will heal or when it seems like the injury will cause the animal to suffer for a prolonged period before dying, wildlife officials will dispatch the bear, Battle said.
“There’s no funding source for veterinary care for wild animals,” he said. “... Animals get injured and they either heal or they die all the time in the wild, and our job is typically to manage populations, not rescue individuals.”
Fish and Game officials will help with more minor rescue situations, like getting a bear unstuck from a bucket or untangling Christmas lights from a moose’s antlers. They’ve anesthetized a moose before to remove porcupine quills and treat it with antibiotics to prevent infection, according to Battle. But bigger injuries are harder to treat.
Wildlife officials work with zoos and conservation organizations to rescue orphaned young animals and place them with those organizations for the remainder of their lives, but even that effort is dependent on space at the facilities, Battle said.
There have been two injured bears reported in Eagle River recently, according to Battle. There have been more bears with injuries reported this year than normal, he said, although it’s not clear why.
If an animal is killed because of an injury, Battle said, he inspects the injury to find out what caused it before the animal’s remains are salvaged for charity.
Battle encouraged anyone who sees an injured animal to contact Fish and Game.
“We cannot guarantee that we’re always able to run out instantly, but if we’re available, we’ll try to get out there and take a look at it,” Battle said. “Sometimes in Eagle River, by the time we get out there, a lot of times the animal is back in the woods and it’s harder to find. But keep reporting, and we’ll lay eyes on it eventually.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify a quote from Anchorage area wildlife biologist Dave Battle about the role of Fish and Game in managing wildlife populations.