Bear makes surprise visit at Big Sur sanctuary. Here’s why staff called it ‘pretty cool’

A black bear wandered onto a Big Sur condor sanctuary a few weeks ago and helped itself to a snack.

No, it didn’t eat a condor: the bear feasted on the bones of a calf carcass that had been left out for the endangered birds.

“The bear just plopped down on the ground and started chewing on bones,” said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which operates the condor reserve and releases condors into the wild on the Central Coast.

Sorenson said the organization usually leaves out one or two carcasses a week as a helping hand to condors that have just been released. The carcasses are stillborn calves donated by California dairies, and serve as a lead-free food source for the birds, Sorenson said. The greatest threat to condors is lead poisoning, which happens when they feed on carcasses that contain lead bullet fragments.

After the bear was spotted on the condor camera, staff held off on putting out another carcass so the bear wouldn’t make a habit of returning for food.

“They (the condors) do really well with or without the food we provide them; it’s a way for us to lower the threat of lead because every carcass we give them we know does not have lead in them,” Sorenson said. “We stopped putting the food out just to be safe.”

Sorenson said this was the first time staff saw a bear at the sanctuary since the organization’s condor program started in 1997.

“The condor sanctuary itself is in a coastal canyon in Big Sur, so we just haven’t seen them,” Sorenson said.

When he saw the bear on the camera, Sorenson said his first thought was for the safety of the staff, but otherwise he wasn’t worried about the wild animal. The bear was only seen on camera once, on Aug. 17, and hasn’t been spotted since.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Sorenson said. “I figured we’d let the bear move on, and it was nice to see them while he or she was here.”

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.