Black Bear #13-2664

December 6, 2013
April 2, 2014
Rescue Location
Harrisonburg, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Wandering at-large on a parking deck
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On the night of December 5, a small adult bear was on the upper level of a parking garage at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. Spectators became concerned that the bear might jump off of the parking deck, and due the high number of people in the area, a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist responded to the scene. The bear was darted twice, and there was some concern about the placement of the first dart, so the bear was transported to the Wildlife Center on December 6 for a physical examination.

Dr. Kristin, the Center’s veterinary intern, examined the bear when it arrived. No obvious injuries were found, though radiographs suggested a possible mild collection of air in the chest cavity – a mild pneumothorax. The bear is not having any trouble breathing, so at this point, Dr. Kristin is not concerned. The bear will be moved to the Center’s Bear Pen later today.

Because the Black Bear had to be chemically immobilized to be removed from the parking deck, the bear cannot be released until the drugs have left her system. This is to protect any human who might shoot and consume the bear during the legal bear hunting season, which extends through January 5. The bear will remain at the Center until January.

The female bear weighed in at 45.5 kg – about 100 pounds. While this may seem small compared to the large cubs currently at the Center, a dental exam suggests that the bear is an adult bear (at least three years old, if not older). The bear is in good body condition.

At the Wildlife Center, we treat to release. Your donation will help support the Center’s care for this Black Bear … and with thousands of wild animals in need.

Patient Updates

A biologist with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries arrived at 9:30 a.m. this morning to pick up Black Bear #13-2664 for release. Dr. Rich darted the bear and performed a quick physical examination prior to loading her in the DGIF vehicle. The bear weighed in at 56 kg. The bear will be released in Rockingham County.

Black Bear #13-2664 has been doing well in the Center’s Bear Pen. The sow continues to sleep a lot during this winter “denning” phase of her life. Test results from the February examination all came back within normal limits; the staff and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries began to plan the bear’s release date.

A DGIF biologist was planning on picking up the bear on Wednesday, March 19, although due to the snowstorm that hit the area on March 17, plans have now changed. After taking the weather and several scheduling conflicts into account, the team is now planning on releasing the bear on April 2.

On February 24, there was still no sign of Black Bear sow #13-2664 having had a cub, and because she was now well outside of the typical cubbing season in Virginia, the veterinary team darted her for an examination.

Dr. Kristin darted the sow in the Bear Pen den area; once the bear was fully anesthetized, the team carried the bear down to the hospital. An ultrasound was performed first. Dr. Kristin and Dr. Dave both spent several minutes searching for a sign of a fetal heartbeat – none was seen, nor was any other indication that the sow was still pregnant. Dr. Kristin then took radiographs to check for an unborn cub; again, no signs of a cub were seen. The veterinarians confirmed that the bear is no longer pregnant. A skin-scraping was also performed on the bear, and blood was drawn for analysis.

Meanwhile, the rehabilitation staff carefully combed through the straw in the Bear Pen to search for any indications that the sow had given birth. Nothing was found. The enclosure was cleaned, and the bear was returned to the enclosure before the team “reversed” the anesthesia with an injection.

The staff are not able to conclusively say what happened to Black Bear #13-2664’s cub. The cub may have been born prematurely, or the fetus may have died and been reabsorbed by the sow.

The team will analyze the blood work and skin-scraping. If the sow is healthy, the staff will begin to plan the release of the sow with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Black Bear sow #13-2664 still has not given birth to her cub and, according to a study on Virginia Black Bears, it is getting quite late in the season to expect a birth. It may be that the sow experienced some issue with giving birth; the veterinary staff won’t know more until an examination can be done.

If no cub appears by February 24, the veterinary team will dart the Black Bear on that day and will perform another ultrasound, and possibly radiographs. The team will also perform a skin scraping, as wildlife rehabilitator Amber noted that the bear is experiencing some hair loss on her face.

The bear will be returned to the Bear Pen following the examination. If she is not pregnant, the Wildlife Center staff will begin to plan a release with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Black Bear #13-2664 appears to be doing well in the Center’s Bear Pen. While she is spending a majority of her time sleeping in her den and in the main area of the Bear Pen (under the Critter Cam), she can also occasionally be seen eating. In theory, the bear can give birth at any time – according to a study by Kim Echols, in Virginia, Black Bear sows have been documented giving birth from December 19 to February 22 – with a median date of January 17.

With that in mind, the Center started an online “cub pool”, just for fun! If you’d like to submit your guess on the arrival date of the new cub, please visit this "cub pool" site and submit your guess. The staff will be monitoring the Critter Cam and will also be carefully listening for evidence of the cub – according to Jaime Sajecki, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Black Bear Project Leader, we very well may hear the cub before we see it.

After the exciting confirmation that adult Black Bear #13-2664 is pregnant, the Wildlife Center staff have been discussing options for the bear with officials from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Options include releasing the bear after hunting season ends, transferring the Black Bear to Virginia Tech’s Black Bear study, or keeping the bear at the Wildlife Center.

Sending the bear to Virginia Tech or keeping the bear at the Wildlife Center would allow the bear to be used as a surrogate mother for any orphaned cubs that are found in Virginia in 2014. This technique has been used many times at Virginia Tech in years past; orphaned cubs are fostered onto the adult sows and the new families are released in the late spring, typically in May.

Because the data collection phase in Virginia Tech’s study is coming to a close for the season, and Virginia Tech has one pregnant sow already, the Wildlife Center and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries decided to keep #13-2664 at the Wildlife Center for the winter. The adult bear will remain in the Center’s bear pen [where she is currently housed] for the immediate future. The bear — and her cubs — will likely be moved to the new Black Bear Complex sometime in March. If and when new orphaned cubs arrive at the Center this year, they will be fostered onto the sow.

In Virginia, Black Bear cubs are born in late January or early February. This means that the cub may be born in the next three to six weeks.

Upon further examination of photos of #13-2664’s teeth, Jaime Sajecki – the Virginia DGIF Black Bear Project leader – believes the patient was closer to six years old. At this age, the bear could possibly be pregnant.

Jaime requested that the veterinary staff check for a fetus. On January 1, Dr. Rich used the ultrasound machine on the Black Bear and identified at least one heartbeat, possibly two, indicating that the bear is pregnant.

Dr. Rich estimates that the fetus is likely around 30 days old. There was no mineralization of the bones, which helped Dr. Rich determine the stage of development.

An adult Black Bear receiving an ultrasound under anesthesia
Dr. Rich conducting an ultrasound of an adult Black Bear under anesthesia

Black Bears have an interesting reproductive adaptation. Mating occurs in the spring and summer months [between May and August], and eggs are fertilized at this time. Each egg develops into a cluster of cells called a blastocyst. The blastocysts suspend development until they later implant in the wall of the uterus, typically around November or December – right before the bears enter their dens. Once implanted, the embryos develop quickly; the gestation period for a Black Bear is less than two months.

This strategy of delayed implantation is an adaptation that allows for births to occur under the most favorable conditions. According to VDGIF, “Delayed implantation allows the female to not waste fat reserves and energy in sustaining a pregnancy that would have little chance of success because her condition is too poor”. Cubs are born in their mothers’ winter dens and are hairless and helpless with closed eyes at birth.

The Center is working with the DGIF to formulate a plan for the continued care of the pregnant sow.

Adult Black Bear #13-2664 is settling in at the Wildlife Center; via Critter Cam, the staff are able to monitor the bear. So far, she appears to sleep a lot and eat a little – typical for an adult bear at this time of year. The current plan is to simply feed and monitor the bear. A biologist with the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries will schedule a release after bear hunting season is over on January 5.