TOWNSEND, Tenn. — At thirteen months, Hartley Bear should weigh about 50 pounds like other healthy yearlings.
Instead, the rescued bear is only 12. He's so thin that he can barely move.
But workers at the Appalachian Bear Rescue say they are cautiously optimistic about his future, but they have to be careful as they nurse him back to health.
While starvation nearly killed Hartley in the wild, feeding him could do it now.
"It's starved and most people's immediate reaction would be to feed it as much as possible but that's at this point really one of the worst things you could do for it," Coy Blair, the lead curator at ABR, said. "You could give the bear an influx of nutrition that could potentially be fatal for it."
They're feeding Hartley a watered-down milk replacement mixture right now.
"He'll eat and then he'll lay back down on a bed until the next feeding," Blair said.
One good sign: Hartley huffed and charged at another worker the other day. That means he has enough energy to try to defend himself.
"Hartley is making progress, we still have guarded optimism obviously," Blair said. "I mean this bear was in pretty bad state when he came to ABR."
But getting him better is hard work and the team is pulling overnight shifts so someone is always with him.
Hartley is in such critical condition, Blair says he doesn't expect he'll be released to the wild until next November.
"We'll start getting this bear a little more nutrition and hopefully he'll perk up," he said.