She is sweet and plays well with others. She isn’t aggressive and doesn’t like cliques.
And at 11 months old, Yona the black bear weighs 90 pounds.
When Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers found her alongside of a road in Townsend last March, she weighed less than 4 pounds and was an orphan.
She’s spent the last 10 months a short distance away, at the Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend, a nonprofit group that aims to rehabilitate orphaned bears for release back into the wild.
Soon, Yona will be introduced to four new friends at her new home - at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C., where she arrived Jan. 15.
She never developed the skills necessary to survive in the wild, according to Appalachian Bear Rescue experts. So Yona will slowly be introduced to the four bears currently in the naturalized exhibit in Durham.
Sherry Samuels, animal director at the museum, predicts 4-year-old Gus will be her closest friend.
“She’s very gentle and thus far has been taking everything in,” Samuels said.
Samuels said the adjustment from the ABR to the museum has been hard on Yona. At the ABR, Yona was raised with 22 other cubs, in an attempt to get her ready to be released to the wild. But she never developed the right survival skills, said Lisa Stewart, her caretaker at ABR.
“She always wanted to play,” Stewart said. “She didn’t display any aggressive skills that would allow her to protect herself in the wild. She didn’t display the desire to go out to live in a wild habitat where she would have to fend for herself.”
Stewart said Yona, unlike the other cubs she was raised with, never formed cliques with the other bears. Instead, she moved from group to group, playing with everyone.
“She was everybody’s buddy,” said Stewart. “Where bears are elusive, she wanted to be in the middle of everything. She never hid out. She wanted to be in everything.”
Because of her sweet nature, ABR decided she couldn’t be released back into the wild. That’s when they made the decision to transfer Yona to the Museum of Life and Science, where she will now live in a naturalized habitat with four other bears: Ursula, Mimi, Virginia and Gus.
“A friendly bear makes for a dangerous bear in the wild,” Samuels said. “We can’t have them used to people. That makes for a dangerous recipe in the wild.”
Currently, Yona is in a 30-day seclusion while she gets used to her new habitat and the scent of the other bears.
“The bears will have to get used to each other and do some verbal sighting and stomping and fighting out the new dynamics for the five of them,” Samuels said.
Samuels believes Yona will begin living with the other bears in mid-February.
Yona, said Stewart, is an exception to the rule
“Yona’s case is a rare one at ABR,” Stewart said. “We strive to offer wild releases to our orphaned cubs once they have completed our program and are prepared to return to their wild homes. When it is not possible to release a bear from ABR because it does not develop necessary survival skills and a natural fear of humans, we diligently search for a proper, permanent home that will offer quality of life.”
Stewart said that task adds more responsibility and cost for ABR. “But we care for each cub’s individual needs and provide all the essentials to allow the cub to thrive,” she said.
Stewart said ABR spent more than $24,000 in food costs alone in 2009 to feed the 23 cubs that were admitted during the record year. “That figure does not include the in-kind donations of natural foods from our supporters,” she said. “We feel that 2009 was a successful year since most of those cubs have already been released to their wild habitats in Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana.”
Stewart said the remaining cubs will winter at ABR and be released in the spring.
Blount Today Editor Lance Coleman contributed to this story.