Record Number of Orphaned Bear Cubs This Year in Virginia
In a happy ending to a sad story, three bear cubs found in a tree in Virginia’s Augusta County have been rescued. The Wildlife Center of Virginia has taken in the cubs after their mother was found dead on the side of a road on Saturday.
All three cubs are female and weigh between four and eight pounds. As WTKR reports, veterinarians have examined the cubs and found that one has a broken tooth and another a healing fracture in her right humerus. After further examination (including to check for parasites), the bears will be set up in an outdoor pen. Their mother was most likely killed by a vehicle, says the Center.
In fact, the Center says that this year, it has “admitted a record number of Black Bear cubs from locations throughout Virginia.” Before the three female cubs, the Center was already caring for eight bear cubs, one female and seven males.
After the three female cubs were brought to the Center, two more arrived. On Tuesday, May 14, a Black Bear cub that a woman had seen on her property for several days with no sign of its mother was brought to the Center; the female cub appears to be healthy and will probably be introduced to the other three female cubs in a few days. Another Black Bear cub, an “extremely thin and dehydrated” male, was also brought in on Tuesday. X-rays revealed that he had a fracture in his right femur that Dr. Rich Sim, the Center’s veterinary fellow, thinks may have kept the cub from keeping up with his mother. The fracture is healing, so the cub does not need surgery, but he does need to gain some weight as he’s currently less than 4.5 pounds.
As Edward Clark, president of the Center, tells WVIR-TV they have “worked out a partnership” with the Virginia Department of Game, Land and Fishing so that they “will become the bear place in Virginia and all orphaned cubs that can’t be fostered with females will be brought here to be raised until they can be given back to the wild.” Some of the many rescued bear cubs are currently in the Bear Pen, a large concrete block structure that was designed for adult, injured bears. In a few weeks they will be moved to a new facility that, it is hoped, “will allow the bears to grow as if they are in the wild.”
Visitors are not allowed to interact with the cubs at any time, but can see what the cubs are up to thanks to the Center’s Critter Cam.
The Center underscores that caring for so many cubs is a “new challenge” for its staff. John Beecham of the International Fund for Animal Welfare underscores the importance of minimizing human contact with the cubs after weaning. Indeed, he notes that “allowing cubs raised in captivity to socialize with other cubs may be the single most important factor in reducing the degree of their habituation.”
The Center has no timetable yet for releasing the cubs and will be working with Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. While cubs and yearlings usually stay with their mothers until they are about 1 1/2 years old, the cubs will be ready to survive on their own after they pass the nursing stage.
As for why the Center has found itself with so many Black Bear cubs: according to DGIF bear biologist Jaime Sajecki, one possible reason is a phenomenon called “cub synchrony,” in which “in years of poor mast, bears who have bred in the summer will not actually give birth – and then the following year, all those bears will breed again and there will be a bump in the number of cubs produced.” Mast is the fruit produced by forest trees including acorns and other nuts and 2011 was indeed a poor mast year. Fall of 2012, though, saw nothing less than a “bumper crop” of acorns.
Another reason for the finding of so many bear cubs is the same reason that, here in New Jersey where I live, the Division of Fish and Wildlife allows black bears to be hunted: human expansion into what has long been the territory of wildlife, including bears.
While it’s cheering to hear that so many cubs have been rescued in Virginia and that efforts are being devoted to reintroduce them to the wild, the reasons for why this happening — the encroachment of humans on nature — must be addressed. Bear cubs need to grow up with their own mothers.
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