The Charlotte Observer
A $5,000 reward is being offered in hopes of finding the culprit responsible for allegedly putting Donald Trump 2020 campaign stickers on bears in western North Carolina.
Two bears with Trump 2020 campaign stickers on their tracking collars have been reported in the Asheville area, according to the bear advocacy group Help Asheville Bears-HAB.
“Bears are not billboards,” the organization said in a July 31 Facebook post. “Whoever put these political stickers on these bears is cruel and heartless. HAB and our followers hope to stop and expose you.”
The Asheville-based organization says it learned of the stickers after witnesses saw the bears outside homes and took photos. HAB officials said their investigation is not intended to be critical of a specific candidate or a campaign. However, the organization says it does not approve of researchers putting tracking collars on bears.
“Any sticker is bad and now it’s been done twice,” HAB officials posted on Facebook. “Collars and tags are bad too. People just love politics more than animals.”
The first instance, reported in September, involved a bear with a sticker seen on a family’s deck in the Asheville area, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times. A wildlife biologist with the Urban/Suburban Black Bear Study told the newspaper its staff had nothing to do with the sticker and it did not condone the risk someone took to get it on a bear’s collar.
The latest report was made Friday and involves a different bear, based on the position of the sticker, HAB said. The person who photographed the bear was identified by HAB as “Shelia” and she was quoted saying: “No words can describe my anger and sadness.”
State wildlife officials told McClatchy News they suspect the person responsible for the stickers is using food to get close to the animals, which is illegal in Buncombe County (home of Asheville). It’s also illegal to deface state property, which is another law violated by the stickers, state officials said.
“It appears someone has been feeding bears on purpose and was able to get close enough to slap the sticker on,” according to Colleen Olfenbuttel, the black bear and furbearer biologist for the Wildlife Management Division of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
“We were able to get that sticker off last year’s bear during den season. So it looks like the same person is up to the same shenanigans. We know that someone in the area, or maybe multiple people in the area, are hand feeding bears. As for why the person is doing the stickers, I can’t say. … I wonder if it’s someone trying to discredit research going on in Asheville, or it could just be an ardent Trump supporter.”
Bears in the Asheville area have been collared as part of The Urban/Suburban Black Bear Study, “a collaborative research project between North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission,” according to its Facebook page. The study is considered critical at a time when reports of bears acting more aggressively are up, including bears trying to get into occupied homes around Asheville, Olfenbuttel said.
Social media reaction to the HAB Facebook post has largely been outrage, including many who wonder how someone is getting that close to wild bears.
“I’m impressed. How the hell did they get the sticker on the collar without being mauled?” Vernon Jordan posted on HAB’s Facebook page.
“You mean, I could just walk up to this bear and put a sticker on it without the bear knowing I was there? Are they pet bears?” Bud Straszewski asked.
“This is a living wild animal with a collar on…. with a Trump 2020 sticker… How does (that) not disturb you?” Tessa Jade posted.
“I don’t think no matter how much someone likes Trump, they would risk a limb to place a sticker on a bear’s collar,” Nina Fox wrote.
To find out more about North Carolina’s guidelines on how to live responsibly with bears, check out Bear Wise Basics, which includes warnings against feeding bears.
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