Bear Expert Dismisses Boy's 'Fantasy' Of Being Saved By Animal Friend

Claims by a three-year-old boy that he was protected by a bear while missing in woods in freezing temperatures have been dismissed by an animal expert.

Casey Hathaway was missing for three days in woods in Craven County, North Carolina, last week.

He was found by search volunteers, and later told his parents a bear had kept him safe.

Image: Breanna Hathaway Facebook

But Chris Servheen, a bear research at the University of Montana, said the only reason a bear would go near a human would to be "predatory".

“Bears are by and large afraid of people no matter how big the person is,” he told The Guardian.

“Bears that move towards people don’t survive long, so they get selected out. The only reason it would go near the child would be to be predatory, although black bears are very rarely predatory of humans and obviously that didn’t happen here."

A wild black bear. Image: Getty Images

Servheen said he believed the boy "had a fantasy", similar to the Disney story The Jungle Book.

"The bear wouldn't feel sorry for him, thinking he's alone. That's ascribing human characteristics on wild animals, which is anthropomorphism," he said.

"But if the boy felt comfortable under the watch of a wild animal, that's fine. Whatever helped him get through it."

READ MORE: Baby Survives Nine Hours Buried In Woods

The boy's story made headlines around the world after his mother Breanne posted on Facebook that he had been found on Thursday.

"Casey is healthy, smiling, and talking," she said.

"He said he hung out with a bear for two days God sent him a friend to keep him safe."

Craven County Sheriff's Office said there was an investigation into how Casey survived, but there was no evidence linking Casey's disappearance to any criminal activity.

"It was by the grace of God that Casey did survive," Sheriff Hughes said in a Facebook post.

"The notion that he was sitting in a house or a vehicle for two days and put out there a couple of hours before we found him is absolutely not true.

"His core temperature was very low, his fingers and all had a bit of frost bite."

On Casey's story of being kept safe by a bear, Hughes said he was willing to believe the story because it gave the boy comfort during his three-day ordeal.

“I don’t know if that meant he saw a bear. I don’t know if that meant a bear embraced him or what it meant,” said Hughes.

"I thought it was a very cute story and if that’s what helped that child survive through this, you know what, I’m to going to embrace that story that came from a three-year-old, to his mom, to us.”