TAHOE (CBS13) — Young bears with a big appetite are prowling through Tahoe.

Rescue groups said they are getting non-stop calls about bears that look malnourished or sick. People are desperate to help, but the rescuers say staying away could save the bears’ lives.

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This time of year, Ann Bryant with the BEAR League said Tahoe neighbors are coming across a surge of young bears known as yearlings. They’re about 15 months old and their mom is leaving them out on their own for the first time.

“They think ‘OK we’ve taught you everything you need to know and now you need to go out into the world and make something of yourself,’” Bryant said.

This is normal. Like teenagers, these bears will cry. They often look confused. Bryant said they still have their baby hair which makes them look like they’re missing fur.

“When people witness this they get really upset,” she said.

All these teenage bears want is dinner.

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“They have to go find their own territory, bears are very territorial,” said Sherry Guzzi with Sierra Wildlife Coalition. “Unfortunately, often the easiest food source is people.”

“They’ll just sit there all sad,” Bryant said. “You know, ‘can you help me I’m hungry?”

Bryant is urging people to do the opposite. The bears must learn to avoid human contact to successfully survive in the wild and find their own food.

“You’ve got to treat them like you would if you sent your kid to college,” Bryant said.

“Don’t stand there and take pictures and tell them how cute they are and tell them ‘I feel so bad for you and wish you still had your mom,’ none of that!”

Instead, you should yell and make humans seem dangerous – a lesson about tough love that could save a wild animal’s life.

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Bryant said there is plenty of natural food out there for these young bears. It’s spring, plants are growing and there’s enough out there for these bears to put some meat on their bones.