2022 Year in Review: Mac Stewart, Wildlife Rehabilitator

It’s time to look back on 2022! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2022 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

I have worked with many different species throughout my years of wildlife experience but I had never worked with American Black Bears until I came to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. The closest I have ever been to one was from a far distance on hiking trails, so you could imagine my excitement becoming part of the bear care team and taking on this new role as a “bear mom”.

Bear cubs can come in as early as January, when they are the size of a potato, so by April of this year, I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first cub. Coincidentally, the first cub of 2022 came in just one day before the release of our 2021 bear cubs, so no time off as a bear mom this year! Black Bear #22-0462 arrived on April 11 after he was seen alone for a concerning amount of time. Of our 2022 bear care team members, only Kelsey had prior experience with bear cubs, so she led the way teaching me how to handle the cub for his intake examination. The cub appeared to be generally healthy and behaved normally.

I always expected to see my first cub and immediately fall in love with the sheer cuteness, but this little bear’s face was not quite what I expected. Watching the exam and the way he looked around the room, his face was just so … human-like. He had such a strong furrowed brow, making him look angry to be in our presence. He had sharp thick fur sticking out on all sides on his mouth and chin, which reminded me of a goatee. I couldn’t help but be a little weirded out by the disappointed, elderly face staring back into my own eyes.

For several weeks, the little cub was the sole bear we had in our care so the only interaction he had was with us during feeding and playtimes. Luckily, he never wanted to bottle-feed and took to eating a mush bowl on his own right from the get-go. He never became interested in wanting to play with us or climb on us, he always wanted to do his own thing and explore the room on his own terms. He was curious about new things but continued to side-eye us the entire time we were in the room with him. I swear some days I could even hear disapproving sighs from across the room.

 

His face remained unsettled for months to come, even as he grew. His brows seemed to get even angrier for a period of time and his face was that of just pure suspicion. As we received more cubs and they all continued to grow, I slowly stopped noticing the displeased looks from the grandfatherly cub. He began to blend in and played and ate alongside the others.

Eventually, he moved out to the Bear Complex with the other four cubs and has finally grown into his facial features, becoming one of our best-looking cubs! I am no longer haunted by the Benjamin Button of bear cubs.

— Mac Stewart, Wildlife Rehabilitator

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!