Biologists seek cause of puncture holes in bear cub

Posted: Friday, August 19, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Federal wildlife officials are investigating the cause of an injury to the leg of a grizzly cub orphaned along the Russian River.

The cub was one of three whose mother was shot to death along the river in July.

Jeff Selinger, Kenai area wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, said biologists discovered the bear had "puncture holes" in one leg. Selinger would not discuss the injury in further detail.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who tranquilized two of the three cubs last week called in federal law enforcement after noting the injury to the bear.

Selinger said the injury to the male cub does not appear to be life-threatening. The bear is limping, but is able to put some weight on the hurt leg, he said.

The hurt male cub is "a little skinny for this time of the year," but otherwise fine, Selinger said. Judging from tooth development the bear is likely a 2-year-old, but could possibly be a very large yearling, he said.

There have been no reports of anyone shooting at the cubs since their mother died, said Kenai National Wildlife Refuge supervisory ranger Bill Kent on Wednesday.

Michael Oswalt, of Anchorage, has been charged in state District Court with six misdemeanors in connection with the shooting death of the cubs' mother.

Charging documents filed against Oswalt, 26, say that on July 31 he fired four rounds from an assault rifle in the direction of a sow and three cubs. The sow was found dead on Aug. 2.

Oswalt, according to charging documents, has told investigators he saw the family of bears fishing in a pool along the Russian, and fired several rounds into the middle of the group.

After shooting, Oswalt said he turned around and ran back up the trail, and his friend Aaron Carter followed shortly afterward.

Salmon returns to the popular Southcentral Alaska stream have been slowing. Bears soon will be moving higher into the Russian drainage to chase the fish as they move toward their spawning grounds.

Selinger said the cubs seem more aware about the dangers of people and he is optimistic about their survival.

"They can probably make it on their own," he said.

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