Officials capture both orphaned cubs of ‘sweet’ bear shot by Ridgefield cop in Newtown

NEWTOWN — Officials with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection captured two bear cubs left orphaned after their mother was shot and killed last week.

One of the cubs came down from a tree in Newtown and was tranquilized and “safely captured” by DEEP Wildlife Division staff, the agency said on its Facebook page around 5:40 p.m. Monday. The cub’s sibling remained in the tree until it was captured and tranquilized less than three hours later.

DEEP said the cubs will be placed with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator within the next day.

At a news conference held just after 2 p.m., Jenny Dickson, the director of the DEEP Wildlife Division, said officials were monitoring the cubs who they discovered had climbed up to a tree in a wooded area in Newtown with the hope of safely tranquilizing them before transporting them to a rehabilitation center in the region.

“At this point it’s going to be important for us to capture those cubs and bring them to a wildlife rehabilitator to give them the best chance of survival,” Dickson said.

The bear cubs’ mother, nicknamed “Bobbi,” was shot and killed last Thursday by an off-duty Ridgefield police officer, officials said. The bear was well-known in the area, including by her ear identification tag number, 217.

State laws in Connecticut make hunting or trapping bears illegal unless it is in an act of self-defense. The circumstances of the shooting last week are not clear. Newtown and Ridgefield police did not respond to a request for comment. Authorities have not released the name of the officer.

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,” adding once it is completed it would be released to the public.

Concern for cubs’ welfare

Laura Simon of the CT Wildlife Rehabilitators Association said she and her colleagues had located the bear cubs on Sunday and requested permission from DEEP to capture them.

“They wouldn’t respond, they wouldn’t allow it. It was crazy because we had the bears, and they were down on the ground, and we could have gotten them but apparently they are going to capture them now, which is good, but the vital thing is they need to get to a wildlife rehabilitataor with their expertise immediately,” said Simon early Monday afternoon as she traveled to the site of the attempted capture.

“They have been without mother’s milk, they are way too young to be on their own, so that is just the thing we are pushing them hard on,” Simon said.

She added there has been no official clarification of where the cubs, once captured, might be sent to.

“We really need to pin them down on this because they do not have the appropriate facility at DEEP to care for bears and these little bears are going to be needing a lot of care that bear rehabilitators can do easily, but they need to get to the right hands,” she said.

Dickson said Monday that DEEP is, “interested in making there is a good outcome for these cubs” and while the first priority was to safely capture the cubs, work was also being done to find a rehabilitation center, potentially in another state.

“We haven’t completely decided which facility they will be going to yet but we have communicated with our other counterparts and other state agencies to find out who is going to permit us to bring them into their states and which facilities have the space to take them,” she said. “That is going to depend on when we actually do get the cubs into captivity.”

Earlier in the day, State Rep. Mitch Bolinksy, R-Newtown, explained how the wildlife authority was “hands off to begin with” but given the young age of the cubs and through local pressure exerted on the agency to do more, “they then stepped up and offered refuge.”

“The local preference, very clearly was to make sure that these cubs were safe and what happened to their mom was something to be investigated,” he added.

Community members pressured state administrators to rescue the cubs, said state Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, D-Bethel.

“They are up in the tree, some of our observers said they looked dehydrated and they are exhausted,” he said. “They are waiting for their mom to come back and she is not coming back.”

Bobbi, the cubs’ mother, was known for roaming around Bethel, Redding and Newtown, with a Facebook group dedicated to her.

“I have pictures of Bobbi on my deck from a couple of visits myself, she really was a sweet animal,” said Bolinksy. “She has been around for four or five years and there has never been anything aggressive with her.”

“I have a friend who when she came to visit would say, ‘Hey, Bobbi, get off my deck,’ and she would,” the state representative added.

DEEP, local officials and police on Sunday had examined a wooded area in Newtown where the cubs have been located, said Will Healey, a DEEP spokesperson.

“The cubs appear to be in good health, but DEEP has concerns for their safety due to the risk of continued public interaction. As a result, DEEP will be attempting capture and rehabilitation,” Healey said Sunday.

He said since Thursday, the agency has deployed its conservation police and staff from its wildlife division to monitor the area and identify “options for rehabilitation if needed.”

Dickson said she was encouraged to see that so many local residents cared about the well-being of the animals, but reminded people to stay away from the area and not to try to feed the animals.

“That is a really dangerous thing to do, because it seems like a good idea, it seems like you might be helping them, but what it actually can do is attract other predators to the area that could put the cubs in danger,” said Dickson.

“It’s really, really important for all of us to do our part so we can learn to live much more comfortably with black bears, they are here to stay and Connecticut is bear country.”

Staff writer Liz Hardaway contributed to this report.