Smokey Jr.: Bear cub rescued from Lake wildfire at Tampa zoo

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2016, 2:03 PM EDT

A 6-pound male bear cub rescued amid a Lake County brush fire Thursday night is "alert but very timid" and now in the care of veterinarians at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.

The cub, named "Smokey Jr.," arrived at the zoo Sunday and is being housed in the outdoor area of the zoo's new veterinary hospital. It is feeding well, which is encouraging for his hopeful reintroduction to the wild, zoo officials said. Access is being restricted because of the risk of habituating it to people, they said.

Firefighters with Lake County and the Florida Forest Service found the bear Thursday and contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

FWC staff searched the area late into the night, but there was no sign of an adult female bear, so they cared for the cub in a secure location overnight.

An adult bear was spotted Friday morning near the vicinity of where the cub was found. At the same time, a veterinarian evaluated the cub. The medical exam determined the cub had singed fur and a few minor burns but no internal injuries.

The veterinarian said the cub was well enough to return to the wild if the adult female bear could be located.

Crews continued to search for the bear's mother through the weekend. FWC said crews will continue to look for the mother until Tuesday. By that time, officials said, the likelihood of the adult female bear returning is "doubtful."

FWC officials said they are uncertain the bear seen Friday is the female they are seeking.

The cub's age is estimated to be 2 to 3 months old, which is an age that remaining with the adult female bear is the best option for the cub because it's still dependent on her.

After the cub reaches 10-15 pounds, officials hope to transfer it to another facility that can rehabilitate it for release into the wild.

"Rehabilitating young cubs is challenging, especially because of the risk of habituating the bear to people," FWC spokesman Greg Workman said. "Bears that are habituated to people can't be released into the wild."


'Smokey Jr.' was rescued amid the brush fire Thursday, April 7, 2016, and brought to fire crews. (Lake County Fire Rescue)