We know that Smokey was released yesterday at about 12:35pm. Below is Tom's telling of the release, which he posted over in the comments section of the webcam page early this morning. Enjoy!
WOW!!!!! What an emotional two days. First of all, let me say this. Yes. Jo is one of our very GOOD and quality volunteers. She took our training class in 2007 and her kids took it this past summer (2008). She, Denise and Dr. Willitts were here for all of the cubs’ releases this past week and we certainly appreciate all of their time and efforts. Karen and her husband, Anthony, were here for Wednesday’s capture of Smokey, the Southern California cub and the Yosemite cub. Anthony videotaped in the morning and—hopefully, we can all see his results in the next day or two.
The web cam picture with the little bear sitting on the log and the sign saying, “GONE HOME” will stay for a few more days. I think it is better than an empty cage—at this time. And, the sign, made up by Jo, says it all!
Wednesday morning. Getting Smokey from his igloo into his travel crate was very interesting.
We all knew that if I went near the cage, Smokey would come bolting out and climb up the log ramp [Karen’s note: since Tom was responsible for getting Smokey out of his cage for bandage changes during his early months of rehab, let’s just say that Tom isn’t Smokey’s favorite person].
So, we decided that I should stay as far away as possible, until Jo and Denise were able to put a 3’ x 3’ chain link gate in front of Smokey’s igloo BEFORE he bolted. It worked, just as we hoped. Then, Nicole and Heidi (F&G biologists) went into the cage with their travel cage. Our intention was to move Smokey from the igloo into the travel cage without having to anesthetize him.
It worked—ALMOST to perfection. You see, the igloo and the travel cage didn’t match up—exactly. There were a few gaps on each side. So, once we got the gate in front of the igloo, THEN it was safe for me to enter. We had a piece of plywood on the left side of the igloo and the chain link gate on the right side. The travel cage has a door that slides up and down, like a guillotine. Easy—RIGHT? Well, think again.
Remember who we are dealing with! This is one of the smartest cubs we have ever had. He “learns” how to “work” the system. So, we started tapping on the back of the igloo. We thought that he would hear the noise and very simply stroll into the cage. NOT! So, Jo started rocking the igloo, thinking that the movement of it would cause him to want to get out. NOT!
Someone handed us a very narrow leaf/garden rake, about 6” wide. Now, mind you, Smokey had piled up a LOT of straw in the opening of the igloo, for two reasons. First, for insulation and second, to keep the igloo darker so he could sleep longer! Smart! So, we felt that all we had to do was to remove some of the straw and he would want to move into the travel cage. Right? NOT!
Next, I took the straw in the opening of the igloo and pushed it into the travel cage. What did Smokey do? He pushed more straw into the opening of the igloo to keep his insulation and darkness! We were ROTFLOAO (laughing “our” _sses off!) Finally, after moving enough straw and leaving him with very little in his igloo, Jo again moved the igloo from side to side and Smokey gave in and slowly moved into the travel cage. No. He did not bolt as I was sure that he would.
Now. We had to get the travel cage out of the Bobcat Cage [the name of the enclosure where Smokey’s been staying for the past couple of months]. The Bobcat Cage has two doors, and we had a difficult time getting the travel cage into it when it was empty. So, to get the travel cage out with Smokey in it, we finally decided it best to stand it up on end and scoot it out.
The travel cage, by itself, weighs right about 40 pounds. When we got it into the garage and weighed it on our scale, the total weight, with Smokey, was 137. So, using the process of elimination, we determined that Smokey weighs right about 100 pounds, give or take 5 pounds. That, my friends, is a very healthy bear cub.
Nicole drove up towards the Redding area, which is about a six-hour drive from Tahoe. Because we knew she wouldn’t leave Tahoe until late morning, plus the long drive, we decided earlier to make the release the next day, Thursday. Wednesday afternoon, I drove up with another volunteer, Dan, who was helping me take pictures of this experience. Nightmare? Ordeal? Procedure? OK. YOU call it what you want.
We stayed the night in the area, and then met with Nicole and team at 8:30am this morning. It took us about 2 hours to get to the release site, which was remote, and has good vegetation and an excellent location. Personally, I felt very good about the site. About the only thing that I would have liked different, is if there could have been more snow in the area, but, we are saying that same thing here in Tahoe.
After anesthetizing Smokey, he was removed from the travel cage, which, by now, he had been in for about 26 hours. Nicole officially gave Smokey his first (and hopefully, ONLY) pierced ear, by placing the electronic ear transmitter in his ear. From what Nicole told me, they will be able to track Smokey for up to 5 miles by airplane for up to one year and possibly longer.
If anything, the one disappointing part of this release was that the biologist in charge of the release would not allow us to place any of Smokey’s “friends” in the den with him [the stuffed animals that our webcam watchers will recognize as his favorite companions these past few months]. And, for some reason, it was felt by F&G that bears in general prefer to sleep/den on pine boughs, rather than straw, so we were told that we could only put in a fraction of the straw that we brought to put in with him. The good part is that—yes—there was some of his straw in the den with him and his scent will be with him. So, when he does get up to wander around, he will be able to smell where his smell is and return to his den and—HOPEFULLY—sleep away the rest of the winter.
As we were leaving the area, it was snowing and raining, so, with any luck, the precipitation would continue and Smokey will stay hunkered down with no one to disturb him until he comes out in the spring. As Mr. Spock would say, “Live Long and Prosper!” We love you, Li’l Smokey. Do us all proud and do exactly what we have taught you to do and use those new tools (your newly healed paws) to the maximum extent of your ability. And don’t EVER get close to those “Creatures” [aka, humans]! We love you and pray for your ability to stay safe, wild and free! After all that you have been through, YOU DESERVE IT!!