Keeping Bears Wild This Spring

Last week, news publications across the country reported on a heartbreaking story – a group of people were captured on video forcibly pulling young black bear cubs out of a tree to take photos with them. 

“It’s a really unfortunate situation,” shared Alex Wehrung, the Center’s Public Affairs Manager. “While we can’t be sure of the fate of these cubs in particular, they’re not the only examples of people interacting with young bears inappropriately – especially during this time of year.”

Pregnant sows (mother bears) typically give birth to cubs in December-February and remain in their winter dens until April or May. At that point in their growth and development, bear cubs are old enough to travel with their mothers outside the den, but will remain under their protective care for many more months.

“It can be a dangerous world out there for young bears. In addition to threats like predation from other animals and simply surviving the elements, bear cubs have to deal with things that are directly related to human activity, too. Den sites being disturbed or destroyed, vehicle collisions, free-roaming dogs that have been let off-leash, close encounters with humans, etc. These are very real threats from the sow’s perspective, and their protective instinct kicks in,” Wehrung described.

One of the first things sows teach their cubs is to climb a tree to avoid danger. If a sow is nervous, she’ll send her cub(s) up a tree and will leave the area until the danger has passed; she’ll then return to gather her cub(s), typically at dusk or after dark.

Three young black bears climbing a tree.If you encounter a bear cub by itself this spring, don’t pick it up. Instead, leave the area and check back the following day to see if the cub is still present. Give the sow plenty of time to come back and collect her cub; don’t be a bear-napper, and never harass wildlife of any kind for the sake of a photo. If you do see the cub the following day, or if you find an obviously injured cub, call the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources or your state wildlife agency.

For more information on coexisting with wild Black Bears and what to do if you find a cub this spring, please visit our Bears as Neighbors page.