A mother bear and three cubs have been found dead in a Pennsylvania church parking lot.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission calls the deaths of the sow and the cubs “highly suspicious” and is seeking information.
Wildlife conservation officers responded to a report of dead bears in the parking lot of St. Monica’s Church in West Wyoming. They discovered a nearly 300-pound female bear and three dead bear cubs.
Officials also said there was no evidence of thrashing or stumbling in the area around the bears, which suggested they died suddenly.
The corpses were transported to the Penn State Animal Diagnostic Laboratory in State College for post-mortem examination and toxicological testing.
An examination of the stomach contents of both bears revealed they recently ate leaves of an English yew plant.
Officials said the plant — native to Europe, Africa, and southwest Asia — is widely cultivated in eastern North America as an ornamental shrub and often found in urban environments, including where the four bears were frequenting.
The plant also contains a compound called “taxine,” which officials said is highly toxic to most animals and humans if ingested.
“This is the first case of black bear deaths attributable to yew intoxication that I have heard of,” said Game Commission wildlife veterinarian Justin Brown in a news release.
Game Commission biologist Mark Ternent said in the news release that bears activity increases just before hibernation so the animals can accumulate fat that will last them through the winter.
He added the four bears were likely preparing for hibernation, and that bear cubs will follow the lead of their mother when foraging for food.
“Wildlife conservation officers and agency biologists encounter bears that have died from unusual causes every year, but this may be a first,” Ternent said. “This unfortunate occurrence was extremely rare and one we hope will not be repeated.”
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