Now the mother bear’s three cubs are being cared for by a rescue group after the animals were saved from the gas-filled space under the home, with hopes that they can be fostered to other mother bears in the wild.
It all started on Saturday, when a homeowner in Sevier County – which is home to popular tourist destinations like Gatlinburg as well as an active black bear population – reported a gas leak. After finding the large bear under the house, they called wildlife officials, according to the Appalachian Bear Rescue.
It turned out that the mother bear had likely caused the gas leak when she broke into the crawl space to use as a den to care for her three newborn cubs, the rescue group wrote in a Facebook post. But at first, they didn’t know that the bear was a mother with three cubs.
"The crawl space beneath a home is not a great place for a bear den, especially if there’s a gas leak," the bear rescue wrote. "There was no way to know if the gas injured the bear, there was no way to safely repair the gas line while the bear was in residence, and there was no way to keep the home warm and habitable without repairing the gas line."
State wildlife officials returned the next day and were able to get the large bear to leave – that’s when they discovered the three cubs. While the mother bear may be able to survive in the cold, the cubs had no chance. Wildlife officers drove the cubs to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, where doctors examined the bears and found they were in "good overall health," according to the bear rescue.
The bears were then transferred to the Appalachian Bear Rescue, whose curators "are at their beck and call" around the clock, according to the group. They named the bears Jasmine, Jeannie and Magic Bear.
Unfortunately, it likely won’t be possible to reunite the cubs with their mother, according to the group. Instead, they hope to find other mother bears that may be able to care for them.
"Fostering the cubs to a mother bear in the wild would be the best ending to this unfortunate story, but it’s a difficult process," the group wrote. "Our curators are in contact with wildlife agencies that may have GPS collared female bears. If so, wildlife officers will have to check the dens to see if the female gave birth to cubs this January, how many she has, and the health of the bear family."