Official: Newtown bear cubs captured over concerns people would feed them

Photo of Peter Yankowski
“Bobbi” in an undated photo.

“Bobbi” in an undated photo.


State officials said the decision to capture and rehabilitate two black bear cubs in Newtown was made because of posts on social media encouraging people to feed the bears, potentially putting the animals in jeopardy.

The two cubs were left orphaned after their mother, a well-known bear affectionately called “Bobbi” by local residents, was shot and killed by an off-duty Ridgefield police officer.

“We were seeing a lot of posts encouraging people to try and feed the cubs and try and do other things that were well-intended but would have put them in a tough position,” said Jenny Dickson, director of the Wildlife Division at the Department of Energy and Environmental protection.

The agency had initially said the cubs would be left to forage on their own following their mother’s death, in the hopes that they wouldn’t need human intervention. But Dickson said Tuesday officials became concerned by social media posts that “the cubs were going to be put in jeopardy.”

“So it became much more important for us to make sure that they were safe,” Dickson said during a news conference at the Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area in Burlington that morning.

The bear cubs’ mother, also known by the number 217 ear tag, was killed May 12 in an incident involving an off-duty Ridgefield police officer. Authorities have not released the name of the officer.

State law prohibits trapping or killing bears except in instances of self-defense.

Exact details on how the cubs’ mother was shot are still unclear. Col. Chris Lewis, the commanding officer of DEEP’s Environmental Conservation police force, declined to release the officer’s name on Tuesday, but confirmed the shooting did take place on private property.

He said he could not confirm if the officer was the shooter, or whether the incident took place on the officer’s property. “Once we complete our investigation, we will bring that forth,” Lewis said.

DEEP Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble used the incident to highlight the dangers of feeding bears in stark terms.

“We see some concerning trends on social media where post photos of bears in their garbage or eating out of their bird feeders, and that’s not cute,” Trumble said. “That’s dangerous for the bears. And so if you are either intentionally or unintentionally allowing bears to eat human food, or human-sourced bears, you are harming those bears.”

Dickson explained that when bears have access to human food, they become “habituated” to humans, and lose their fear of people. “That becomes very very dangerous for them, it’s also dangerous for the public,” Dickson said.

She said people should remove their bird feeders this time of year because birds have access to plenty of food, as do bears.

On Monday, DEEP officials said the two cubs had been “safely” captured. One was tranquilized after it came down out of a tree. The second was also later tranquilized and captured, the agency reported.

James Fowler, senior adviser on outreach and engagement at DEEP, said Monday the agency continues to investigate the shooting and is working with “a number of different groups across the state to compile a report.” Fowler said the investigation would be made public after it is completed.

Dickson said the two bear cubs will be reintroduced to the wild around eight months of age, meaning sometime in the late summer to early fall. The two cubs are currently about four and a half months old.

The cubs are both in good health. “They’re awake this morning and a little bit feisty,” she said. Both will be placed with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator after final arrangements are made.

Dickson said the wildlife rehabilitator will try to minimize human interaction with the cubs, give them lots of exercise to grow their muscles and provide them with food. But teaching them to forage for their own food is also part of the process, she said.

“It’s a complicated process, that’s why their aren’t a lot of people who do it,” Dickson said.

Neither has been given a name.

“Wild animals are not pets, and when we start to make that connection that we would with our dog or our cat, that’s when we start to do things that are not in their best interest,” Dickson said.

Previous reporting by Staff Writer Liz Hardaway contributed to this report.