Li’l Smokey: The Next Step

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Li’l Smokey, a now not-so-little American black bear cub rescued last summer from a smoldering north state forest, was returned Thursday to new digs in the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County.

The exact location of Li’l Smokey’s new home is being kept secret by state Department of Fish and Game officials.

But wildlife experts said it is considered to be excellent bear habitat.

DFG personnel placed the tranquilized cub in a cozy den, one ear tagged with an electronic transmitter.

That device will allow them to monitor him for about a year.

Li’l Smokey won the affection of countless animal lovers throughout the world after his rescue last year.

He was quietly picked up Wednesday from a South Lake Tahoe wildlife care and rehabilitation center, where he had been housed since July while recovering from severe paw and other injuries suffered during last summer’s Moon Fire in Shasta County.

Tom Millham, secretary-treasurer of nonprofit Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, who was one of those on hand for the bear’s release, wrote earlier on Li’l Smokey’s Web site blog – www.ltwc.org – that the black bear seemed to be more than happy to finally be on his way to freedom.

“We were able to get Smokey (Wednesday) into his transport crate without sedating him by placing the door of the crate against the door of the ‘Igloo’ that Smokey’s been denning in for the past several weeks,” Millham wrote.

But it appears that Li’l Smokey, who’s now about a year old, wanted to make sure that he didn’t leave some of his favorite toys behind. The toys were placed in the travel crate for the long trip ahead of him.

“He was very calm when he was loaded up and just seemed to be ‘hanging out’ waiting for the next chapter,” the Web site read.

A Li’l Smokey webcam that was popular with those who liked to get a glimpse of the bear these past few months today showed site visitors an empty straw-filled enclosure and a small sign that simply read, “Gone home.”

Also on hand when Li’l Smokey was released was California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection forester Adam Deem of Anderson.

Deem spotted and rescued the injured and badly dehydrated Li’l Smokey as he was scouting the western flank of the Moon Fire near the border of Trinity and Shasta counties

Hibernation lasts about three months, but bears don’t sleep the entire time, Millham has said.

“They’ll get up and move around a bit,” he has said. And though they will also continue to drink a bit, they won’t eat.

The average life expectancy of a black bear in the wild is about 18 years, and Millham has said he has nothing but confidence that Li’l Smokey will survive and thrive in the wild.

In fact, wildlife experts said, they would not have released him back into the wild had they been uncertain he would survive.

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