This week I’m hopping across the country to post about a rescued black bear cub in Pennsylvania. One of the many perks of owning a lodge is that I have the opportunity to meet interesting people from around the world, and many of our guests become our friends. A few years ago, Tony and Karin Ross from Pennsylvania joined us for a summer trip, and they have returned to our lodge every year since then. We’ve gotten to know the Rosses well, and we stay in touch throughout the year. Both Tony and Karin work with animals, and Tony is the Northcentral Regional Wildlife Management Supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Luckily for all of us, one of Tony’s hobbies is wildlife photography, and as you can see from the photos in this post, he is very good at it.
This spring, Karin e-mailed and said, “Nothing beats your husband bringing home a bear ub!” She went on to tell me that the Pennsylvania Regional Game Commission office received a phone call from a man who said a small cub was sitting at the bottom of a steep rock outcrop next to a stream near his cabin. The cub appeared to be alone, either separated or abandoned by his mother, and the little guy was crying. Tony and his crew drove out to the area where the man had seen the cub, and the man told them that the cub recently had crossed the fast-flowing creek and ran into the forest. A few moments later, one of Tony’s associates noticed something moving in the woods, and when Tony walked into the forest, the cub ran towards him. The cub stopped six-feet from Tony, sat on a log, and looked up at him. Tony tried to kneel down beside the cub to catch it, but the cub warily moved under some bushes.
Since Tony had three people with him, they slowly circled the cub and caught him with a net. They then took the cub back to their office, dried him off, and put him in a pet carrier with a warm blanket. That night, Tony took the 7-lb. cub home, and he and Karin fed him with a syringe filled with sweetened condensed milk mixed with water. The cub consumed four 12-cc syringes over the next 12 hours.
After catching the cub, Tony and his crew set a trap to try to catch the cub’s mother, but they were unsuccessful, so Tony did the next best thing. He released the cub to a black bear sow who had three cubs of her own. I was fascinated that a black bear sow with three cubs would adopt another cub, and how did the biologists introduce the cub to its new family? I’m used to brown bears, and a brown bear mother with three cubs has her paws full. That’s a large family for a brown bear, and it is unlikely she would willingly feed a fourth cub that wasn’t her own. Tony told me that it is fairly common for a black bear mother to have four cubs; some black bear sows have six cubs. He said they have a list of potential foster mothers for these types of situations. The foster mothers are radio-collared females that already have cubs of their own. When biologists need to place a cub, they locate one of their radio-collared sows, and if they feel she can handle another cub, they follow her until she trees her cubs. They then run to the tree, roll the foster cub in the dirt, and send it up the same tree where its foster siblings are. All the while they are doing this, they have to keep track of the mother to make sure she keeps her distance. Once the foster cub is up the tree, the biologists quickly leave the area and hope for the best.
Before a foster cub is released, he is ear tagged, and you can see the ear tag on the foster cub in the photo. Tony said the release of this cub went according to plan, and he said he and his colleagues were happy to see the foster cub climb on and over his new siblings, picking up their odor and making it more likely his new mother would accept him.
Tony told me that each year the Pennsylvania Game Commission places orphaned cubs with foster moms. Sometimes a cub’s mother is hit and killed by a vehicle, and sometimes, cubs are just abandoned by their mothers for some reason. Worst of all, people occasionally take cute little cubs from the field and try to keep them, but when they become a handful (and that doesn’t take long), people contact the game commission for help. Tony and his colleagues do their best to place each orphaned cub with a foster mother, and while they don’t have the resources to follow each cub, they know that many of these tagged cubs have grown into adults, so the placements were obviously successful.
I was fascinated by Tony and Karin’s encounter with the black bear cub, and I was reminded how much black bears differ from brown bears. Tony and his fellow biologists with the Pennsylvania Game Commission work hard to ensure every orphaned cub is placed with a new mother and has a chance to survive until adulthood. Brown bear sows sometimes adopt cubs, but I believe it is a rare occurrence.
I find it interesting that any wild animal would adopt a baby that isn’t its own. Please leave a comment if you have information or stories about wild animals adopting “foster children.” Also, don’t hesitate to ask Tony a question; I’ll be sure he gets it.
For more information on the Pennsylvania Game Commission, their biologists, and their research projects, go to www.pgc.pa.gov. I checked out this website, and it is full of information. Spend some time reading about the ongoing research projects of the game commission; I found it extremely interesting.