All six Black Bear cubs are doing well at the Wildlife Center and are currently housed together in Bear Pen 1. They have access to the entire den and pen area of the Bear Pen and have several logs and trees for climbing practice. As of April 30 … the bears will be on Critter Cam!
Each of the cubs has been transitioned from bottle-feeding to bowl-feeding; this means they are now readily lapping their specialized formula out of a bowl. Because the cubs are different weights and sizes, each formula amount is calculated for each individual bear, and the feedings are carefully monitored by the staff. The larger cubs are offered formula twice a day [cubs #13-0469 and #13-0470]; the smallest cubs are offered formula three times a day [four cubs]. At each feeding session, two students (or staff) enter the enclosure. Two cubs are fed at a time; the others are temporarily enclosed in large airline crates in the main area of the bear pen. Once everyone is fed, the cubs are allowed access to the entire Bear Pen 1 enclosure again. The staff leave a “mush bowl” for the bears each evening, to see if the cubs will eat more solid food overnight. So far, the cubs have not been interested.
Caring for nursing bear cubs long-term is a new challenge for the Wildlife Center rehabilitation team. Fortunately, the rehabilitation staff have been getting valuable advice from several other bear experts in the field. John Beecham of International Fund for Animal Welfare, Lisa Stewart of Black Bear Solar Institute, and Tracy Leaver of Woodlands Wildlife Refuge have all provided an overview of their black bear rehabilitation program – each facility has had remarkable success with the raising and release of the species.
Critter Cam viewers can expect to see the scheduled feedings around 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. Eastern – roughly. The staff and students will be visible on camera as they carefully monitor the bear cubs – and viewers may even see some interaction between caregivers and cubs. Because bear cubs are closely bonded with their sow in the wild, the young cubs are allowed a small amount of interaction with caregivers during feeding. While the Center staff and students do not talk to or cuddle with the cubs, the cubs may climb on the caregivers for a short period of time.
According to John Beecham, “Allowing cubs raised in captivity to socialize with other cubs may be the single most important factor in reducing the degree of their habituation. When human contact with the cubs is severely restricted after weaning, cubs will show less interest in interactions with their caretakers.” Lisa Stewart advises, “At this time of year, you will notice that the cubs still accept human interaction (they enjoy being held while taking their bottles), and there is not much risk at this point (up to 5 months of age) of causing habituation as long as the interaction with humans is short during the feeding period and the comfort received after feeding is from their own kind.”
One good thing about caring for six bear cubs is that there is no shortage of comfort from their own kind!
Once the cubs begin to eat their nightly mush bowl, additional soft foods will be introduced. The cubs are weighed on Wednesdays and Sundays, and the bear pen is cleaned on Saturdays.