Bear-ly bothered

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A small female black bear was found by itself, hurt and roaming around Rio Communities last week.

Wesley Armstrong, a lieutenant with the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department, was leaving First United Methodist Church in Rio Communities at about 4:45 p.m., Wednesday, June 19, with his parents. As they were pulling out of the parking lot onto Manzano Expressway, they spotted a small, brown furry creature.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: This 1-year-old black bear was found wandering around Rio Communities last week. New Mexico Game and Fish Belen District Officer Darrell Cole tranquilized the yearling and transported her to an rehabilitation center.

“A brown bear comes running straight across the street, right in front of our car,” Armstrong said. “It went across the street, went straight to the park and moseyed into the trees.”

Armstrong called the bear sighting into dispatch, went to the fire department down the road to get his fire apparatus and then back to the park to keep an eye on the bear until an officer with New Mexico Game and Fish arrived. Armstrong and two other firefighters kept a safe distance from the bear, all the while trying to take pictures of the furry friend they later named “Rio.”

“I’ve never seen a bear that wasn’t in the zoo,” Armstrong said. “It was pretty cool; I was shocked.”

The bear, in the meantime, didn’t seem too phased about the onlookers as she walked around the shaded area, even resting by laying down from time to time. At one point, the bear stood on its hind legs as if she was going to try to make it up one of the trees on the northeast end of the park.

When Valencia County Sheriff’s deputies Nick Dimas and Alejandro Lara arrived, they took precaution, pulling out their department-issued rifles. They said they weren’t planning on using their weapons, but had them handy, “just in case.”

A few minutes went by until New Mexico Game and Fish Belen District Officer Darrell Cole, arrived. Still, the bear seemed aloof, enjoying her surroundings under the shade of the trees, until Cole walked down from the Manzano Expressway to the park.

Cole said several residents had reported seeing a bear in the area between Valencia High School and Rio Communities in the days before locating her at Timan Park. He said the night before, he had received a call from a resident on Olson Street in Rio Communities.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Wesley Armstrong, a lieutenant with the Rio Grande Estates Fire Department, was the first to spot the small bear he later named “Rio.”

“(The resident) went outside with a flashlight and looked all around but couldn’t find it,” Cole said.

When Cole got a closer look at the bear last week, he could tell she was fairly young, trying to stay in the shade and eating some nuts on the ground. He said he realized that this small of a bear, roaming around by itself, needed some help.

“She was sitting by the tree for several minutes after I arrived, and I loaded up a immobilization dart in the dart gun, and I walked around, trying to keep some bushes in between me and her,” he said. “I got fairly close — close enough that I felt I could make a shot.”

But when the bear spotted Cole, she ran up the tree. He said that was the safest move for the bear, so she couldn’t get away and run off through the neighborhood.

The game and fish officer said darting a bear while it’s still on the ground is dangerous because it takes a while for the dart to take effect and she could have run off and he could have lost her.

After running up the tree, Cole had a perfect shot of the bear’s hind quarters, and took the shot. But as time went by, it was clear that the shot didn’t take its intended effect.

The small bear, still up in the tree, watched the officers and firefighters as they looked on from below.

“The first time, I gave her three ccs of the drug, which was a lot for that size of bear, but it had no effect,” Cole said. “I made a smaller dart, about one cc, and that took almost immediate effect.”

Cole said he’s not sure why the first dart didn’t do its job, but he suspects it may have not hit the bear’s muscle.

After the yearling fell from the tree, which was about a 10-foot drop, Cole immediately checked her out, making sure she was breathing and in good physical health. He did say he found that she had a pretty bad cut to her left leg and some injures he thinks could be road rash.

“I’m thinking she was maybe with her mom, who got hit by a car,” he said. “Mom may be dead somewhere, and of course, she was orphaned, and she’s out trying to make it on her own.”

Cole transported the 25-pound bear, who he estimates to be about 1 year old, to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Española.

Recently, several bears have been spotted in the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho area and there have been multiple bear calls every day in the East Mountains. Cole said a bear was also spotted recently in the La Joya area in Socorro County.

This is the first bear New Mexico Game and Fish officers have captured in Valencia County.

If someone sees a bear, Cole advises they contact their local law enforcement agency and New Mexico Game and Fish at 222-4700.

“Don’t pursue the bear, do go out chasing the bear,” Cole said. “If you’re out hiking or walking and it’s being aggressive, raise your arms up high and make yourself look bigger. Yell, scream, throw rocks at it. Don’t turn and run. They will catch you and they will overpower you.

“If the bear does attack, fight back with everything you have,” he said. “Punch it on its nose, which is a real sensitive area on the bear, but fight back like it’s another person. We advocate standing and fighting.”

This wasn’t the first time a bear was seen at Timan Park. In August 2006, a mother black bear and her three cubs were found in the same area as the bear found last week.

During that rescue, game and fish officers tranquilized the mother bear. A few minutes later, the 150-pound animal fell about 30 feet and landed on an air mattress laid out below.

The cubs were rescued one by one, as they were plucked from the tree, carried down a fire department’s ladder truck and placed in a cage separated from their sedated mother.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.