A little bear cub was found with third-degree burned paws, ears, muzzle and chest, after surviving the worst wildfire in Washington state in 2014. The cub managed to crawl up a driveway and find help in a compassionate man, Steve Love, who reassured her that help was on the way.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) arrived to rescue the bear and brought the cub to Rich Beausoleil, the WDFW bear specialist. All of her burns were treated before she was transferred to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC), a treatment and rehabilitation center in Northern California.
Cinder was at the rehabilitation center for three months, where she completely recovered from her burns. The next step was to transfer her to Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation (IBBR) to help prepare her to return to the wild. While she was at the center she met a young male cub named Kaulana. The two became inseparable and the team planned to release them together back into the wild.
Cinder’s story touched the hearts of many around the world and a children’s e-book was written about her survival. The proceeds from the book went to the two rehabilitation centers that cared for her. She was a beloved and mellow bear that inspired others.
When Cinder turned two-years-old in 2015, it was time for her and Kaulana to be released into the wild. Both bears were brought to the Cascade Mountains and released in an area that had easy access to food and water. The bears were free at last.
Wildlife officials wanted to instill a fear of humans back to the bears for their protection, so they fired guns and had dogs chase them for a short distance into the woods. The bears were together for only a few months before a hunter shot and killed Kaulana during bear hunting season.
In February 2017, wildlife officials observed Cinder and changed out her GPS collar. Beausoleil who had originally help rescue Cinder, set up cameras later that year near her den. He was hoping to capture images of her and any cubs she may have.
Cinder’s GPS collar stopped transmitting a signal in October. Beausoleil was optimistic that the reason was because she was in her den hibernating.
“Unfortunately, instead of finding a den, we found Cinder’s skeletal remains,” Beausoleil told Methow Valley News. A hunter had shot and killed her just a short distance from where she was released into the wild. Her GPS collar was cut off by the hunter.
Although, it is not illegal to kill a bear with a GPS collar, Washington state requires hunters that kill these bears to report the bear’s sex and the location where they killed them. “All my contact information is on the collar, but the hunter chose not to call. I don’t know why,” Beausoleil told Methow Valley News.
Cinder will be remembered as a survivor who inspired other wildfire survivors with her story. Some questioned if she should have remained in a sanctuary, but she was restless there. IBBR’s Sally Maughan, caretaker of hundreds of rescued bears said, “They will take freedom every time.”
The staff at IBBR and everyone who cared for Cinder is mourning her death and remembering her with happy photos and posted, “Yet Cinder was a definite inspiration to humans who also knew that pain & suffering and to the many supporters around the world who followed her story. I think most of us felt if she could do it, if she could fight to recover, if she could regain her freedom, then we humans could also face our own traumas and survive to live again.”
The mellow bear will live on through her story and in the hearts of those who took part in her rescue. It was a tragic end for a magnificent bear that survived so much. “Our tribute to Cinder is to never forget her, to thank her for showing us how to heal in the worst of times, and for her courage and fight to survive to live free again.”
Andrea Powell is an animal enthusiast that resides in West Michigan. When not writing, she is exploring the great outdoors with her dogs and horses.