Who wants to buy a baby bear?
Wildlife officials are looking into reports that a man tried to sell two bear cubs at a northern California gas station on Wednesday after shooting their mother.
The Department of Fish and Game was contacted after drivers passing the Sierra Super Stop in North San Juan, a small town about 75 miles northeast of Sacramento, to report having seen the man, identified as Chris Puett, with two caged, black bear cubs, MSNBC reported.
Puett denied that he was trying to make money off the cubs. He said he had shot the cubs’ mother in self-defense near his tent-trailer a few days earlier and was just looking for a new home for them.
“She comes in to get that bag, and I yell at her and instead of leaving like she had done every time in the past, she’s coming right at me,” Puett told NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento.
According to Puett, the injured bear scampered off without her cubs. He said he assumed she later died of her injuries.
Puett said he spent 18 hours trying to catch the cubs, which he named Yogi and BooBoo, after they escaped up a tree.
Afterward, he said he kept the cubs, one weighing 11 pounds and the other 13, for a couple of days before deciding to find them another safe home.
“I did not do this to kill animals,” Puett told KCRA. “I did this to save my life. My life is saved. Theirs is still going. I don’t want the babies dead.”
Several witnesses at the gas station have supported Puett's claim that he wasn't seeking money in exchange for the cubs.
Now investigators are trying to find the dead mother bear to confirm Puett's story. Puett had no signs of injury from his alleged encounter with the bear.
A district attorney’s office might investigate whether Puett was trafficking in bear parts, which a felony in California, Fish and Game spokesperson Patrick Foy said.
MSNBC reported that the four- to six-month-old cubs are healthy and in good condition. They will stay at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care until wildlife officials release them into the wild during hibernation.