Black Bear cubs of 2014

March 1, 2014
August 4, 2014
Former Patient
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In April 2014, the Wildlife Center began admitting this year’s bear cubs from locations throughout Virginia. These bears were born in January or February of 2014. Some cubs were suspected to be orphaned; several of these cubs were found and kept by people, until the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries confiscated the young bears.

Due to the number of cubs, as well as a distinct size difference, the cubs were split into two family groups, each with a female yearling Black Bear. The yearling in each new family will act as a “surrogate” to the bear cubs – providing them with an older, protective role model. Although the yearlings are not yet of breeding age, the maternal instincts of these female yearlings kick in after they are introduced to their young charges. The surrogates/role models, who have spent a year in the wild, help teach the cubs how to be bears and help reinforce a wariness of humans. This technique was used by the Wildlife Center in 2012, with success.

Once the bear cubs are weaned from formula, they will be moved to the Center’s new Black Bear Complex, in their family groups. In the Bear Complex, the bears will have plenty of room to continuing growing, away from humans.

When introduced to other bears, each cub has a temporary colored ear tag placed in its left ear. These tags will be removed prior to release and will be replaced with more permanent green ear tags from the Virginia Department of Inland Fisheries. The temporary colored tags allow the staff to monitor and identify the cubs via Critter Cam.

The 2014 bear cubs include:

Family Group #1 [Bear Pen 1]

Family Group #2 [Bear Pen 3]

Watch the bears on Critter Cam!

Read our 2014 Frequently Asked Questions about Black Bear cubs

Patient Updates

Dr. Dave McRuer, the Center’s veterinary director, traveled with the DGIF biologists to the bear release on August 4. The biologists and Dr. Dave met up with a member of the Virginia Bear Hunters Association along the way; he and his family also attended the bear release. Dr. Dave reports that the release went well. The cubs were released first – they quickly jumped out of the transport container and ran into the woods. Cub #14-0224 [the smallest cub] was the first out of the truck and ran to the base of a tree.

The two yearlings were released moments later – they both bolted out of the truck, away from humans and ran across the gravel logging road and up a small embankment. The biologists and Dr. Dave were able to hear the yearlings run up the hill, but heard both bears stop as soon as they were safely hidden behind some trees. The five cubs stayed together and began exploring their new home. At one point, Dr. Dave said that cub #14-0350 – the largest male cub – walked away from the other four cubs. When he realized he was away from the others, he started calling out – and the other four cubs quickly joined him.

The release team quickly left the area so that all seven bears could reunite and explore their new home.

Bears cubs of 2014 Release

On the afternoon of August 1, the rehabilitation staff baited and set two large live traps in the yard of the Bear Complex. The cubs and yearling #14-0126 fell for the traps very quickly – the staff kept quite busy between dropping the trapped bears off at the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure, and running empty traps back into the yard.

Yearling #14-0184 was the last bear in the yard – and eluded trapping for a little more than an hour. Finally, two traps were set, and the bear eventually entered one. The staff quickly moved her to the Large Mammal enclosure with the other bears.

While waiting for the second yearling bear from the yards, yearling #14-0126 and the five cubs wasted no time settling into the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure. While this smaller area doesn’t have trees or other natural features for long-term bear housing, it does have two fire-hose hammocks – which will keep the bears occupied for the next two days!

The veterinary staff has been formulating capture strategy for the seven bears in yard #1 of the Black Bear Complex to prepare for the August 4 release! Because the smaller cubs in the family groups [two yearlings and five cubs] could prove to be more difficult to dart in the very large space, the veterinary team would like to see if the bears can be caught in a large live trap prior to the release date. This will allow the team to safely remove the bears from the half-acre yard and place them in a smaller space for Monday’s darting.

On Saturday, July 26, rehabilitator Kelli and intern Jordan placed two large bear traps in yard #1, just to allow the bears to get used to its presence. The doors of the traps were secured in the open position to allow the bears to safely explore the traps without getting enclosed. The bears wasted no time checking out this new addition, and were not at all afraid of the traps.



On Friday, the rehabilitation staff will bait and set the two traps – and will monitor the traps frequently for any bears that are caught. When cubs and/or yearlings are trapped, the team will move the bears to the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure for the weekend. It’s hard to know many bears will be caught in this manner – but the rehabilitation team will continue the trapping attempts throughout the weekend.

On Monday, the yearling bears will be darted, whether they are in they are still in the yard, or have been moved to the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure. It’s likely that the largest cub, #14-0350, will also need to be darted. The staff will assess if cubs that have been trapped and moved to the Large Mammal enclosure can be manually captured and restrained. The bears will be weighed, examined, and ear tagged prior to release.

A release date has been set for the two yearlings and five cubs that are currently at the Wildlife Center – the bear “families” will be released on August 4. DGIF Black Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki will pick up the seven bears that morning and will transport them to the release site.

The bears will be released in a remote area of public land bordering a wilderness area in western Virginia. Releasing the cubs late this summer will reduce their time in captivity. Because three of these cubs were illegally kept in captivity for a lengthy period of time before they were admitted to the Wildlife Center this spring, Center staff and DGIF officials would like to minimize the cubs’ time in captivity this year. These cubs will have the advantage of staying with an older “surrogate” yearling bear throughout this fall and winter.

While bear hunting season starts this fall, all of these bears – including the yearlings – are under the legal hunting limit. The greatest danger to rehabilitated cubs – particularly ones that were kept illegally by humans – is when the cubs lose fear of humans, and their curiosity brings them close to residences and people. Jaime has been speaking with members of the Virginia Bear Hunters Association (supporters of the WCV) who live and hunt near the release area; these hunters will be keeping a watchful eye on the seven bears this fall. The hunters will alert both DGIF and the Wildlife Center if any problems arise, and they will be watching to ensure the bears don’t make their way closer to any residential areas this fall. These outdoorsmen and women place tremendous value on bears, share in our mission by wanting to ensure that the cubs get the best chance to grow up wild, and feel very strongly about protecting the female surrogates.

The release location has an abundance of wild fruits and other foods, and Jaime notes that this fall looks as though that area will have an abundance of acorns. By all accounts, the release area is a great place to be a bear.

The five cubs and two yearlings have been doing well during the past month in the Center’s Bear Complex. The two families have blended into one large bear family and the cubs can regularly be seen (via Critter Cam) interacting with one another as well as both surrogate yearlings.

The Critter Cams have offered the opportunity to see these bears play and grow together – and interact with some natural “visitors” that live in the woods!

The Wildlife Center staff has been working with Jaime Sajecki, the DGIF bear biologist, to determine the best release date for these bears. Because the cubs this year have enjoyed the protection and mentorship of two female yearlings, the current plan is to release the seven bears – together – this summer. The advantage to this plan is that the cubs’ time in captivity will be greatly reduced [as opposed to releasing the bears in January].

As noted in our FAQ document, at this point, these cubs are old enough to survive in the wild. There have been a number of studies on survivorship of orphaned cubs; several different studies suggest that orphaned cubs are able to survive on their own when they are as young as five-and-a-half months old. According to John Beecham, “Leaving a cub in the wild is a viable option for many cubs if they are old enough to survive alone and have adequate fat reserves. American black bear cubs as young as five to seven months of age have survived … information from studying released bears suggests that survival rates are higher for older, larger cubs.”

According to a study by the U.S.D.A., L.L. Rogers notes, “Although black bear cubs normally remain with their mothers for 17 months … they are commonly self-sufficient at five months [by June-July, depending when they were born], and they instinctively construct dens in the fall.”

These cubs will have the additional advantage of staying with an older “surrogate” bear throughout the fall and winter. Jaime also notes that the “soft mast” crop [leaf buds, berries, and other fruits] is good this year, so the bears will have plenty to eat in the wild this summer. A release date has not yet been set, though discussion is underway.

Black Bear family #2 [yearling 14-0184, cub #14-0224, and cub #14-0394] were moved to yard #1 of the Black Bear Complex on Monday, June 16. Dr. Kristin darted the yearling bear to anesthetize her for a safe move. The cubs were able to be caught and placed into crates for the transport to the yard. Each cub weighed about 4.0 kg.

The yearling was removed from her transport crate and was placed on the ground in the yard, where Dr. Kristin was able to reverse the anesthesia. Once the bear showed signs of waking, the two cubs were released from their crates. The three other cubs in the yard came over to meet the two new cubs — all five cubs spent several minutes sniffing and inspecting one another. Cubs #14-0224 and 0394 then climbed the same tree near the observation tower.

Yearling #14-0126 came down the hill to inspect the situation; yearling #14-0184 retreated by climbing a tree. The staff left the area to allow the seven bears to get to know one another.

Black Bear cubs 2014

Black Bear Family #1 – the yearling and three cubs – have been doing well in the Center’s Black Bear Complex. While the bears can be hard to spot sometimes due to all the trees and leaves, many Critter Cam viewers have enjoyed glimpses of the four bears climbing, lounging, or even swimming! On June 9, all four bears were spotted together, swimming in the large tub in the bear yard. The family group seems to be sticking close to one another.



Family #2 – yearling #14-0184 and cubs #14-0224 and 14-0394 – are doing well in the Center’s Bear Pen. As of June 9, the cubs have been cut off from their softer “juvenile” meal, and now are being served an adult bear meal [fruits, veggies, insects, nuts, seeds, dog food, and fresh browse]. The family will remain in the Bear Pens this week, so the rehabilitation staff can continue to closely monitor their diet transition. If all continues to go well, the family will be moved to the Center’s Bear Complex on June 16.

At first, the Center staff considering placing family #2 in their own yard – to separate them from family #1. After discussing several different ideas with DGIF Black Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki and bear expert Lisa Stewart of Black Bear Solar Institute, the current plan is to place the two families together in yard #1.

This will allow the two female yearlings to continue to develop as well – while modeling bear behavior for the cubs. After Jaime and Lisa spoke, Jaime explained, “The yearling females have taken over the maternal role with the cubs, and while this is awesome, the yearlings also need to be able to progress on their own developmentally and socially. Having another bear their own age will help them do this, since the interaction with another yearling is different than the interaction the females have with the cubs. Together the yearlings will interact, vocalize, wrestle, forage, and so on, and the cubs can watch this. This benefits the cubs because they will experience the behaviors of the older bears. While social interactions change as bears get older (adult bears are mostly solitary), they do have hierarchies. The two yearlings will need to establish this hierarchy as well — one will be the dominant female. Lisa said there will likely be some skirmishes at first, but again, this is how it works in natural situations and the cubs will benefit from experiencing these interactions. In the wild, bear cubs are not raised in the absence of other bears – they get to see how their mothers act when she encounters other bears. So by allowing the yearlings and cubs to all interact together, it helps all bears progress faster because their experiences are more diverse. It’s also more like what the bears would experience once they emerged from dens in the wild.”

Black Bear family #1 – consisting of yearling #14-0126 and three cubs – will be moved to the Center’s Black Bear Complex on Tuesday, June 3. Dr. Rich will be leading the “immobilization and moving” team; the yearling and the largest cub [#14-0350] will need to be darted and anesthetized. Dr. Rich will assess how large and feisty the two smaller cubs are to determine the best and safest way to move them. Once moved, the bears will recover and re-group in the transition pen #1, before the staff open the door into the adjoining yard.

The rehabilitation staff will scatter a wide variety of bear food throughout yard #1 prior to the bear move. For the first week, the rehabilitation staff will offer food once a day so that they can monitor how the cubs are eating in the new environment. After the first week, a larger volume of food will be provided — once a week. This “toss and scatter” method will reduce human contact and will give the bears several days in between seeing humans.

The cubs in family #2 will be cut off from formula on June 3. The rehabilitation staff will continue to offer a combination of soft and hard foods for the next week as the cubs start to eat an adult bear meal.

Bear Family #1 was successfully moved to the Black Bear Complex [yard #1] on the afternoon of June 3. Dr. Rich darted and anesthetized yearling #14-0126 and cub #14-0350; cubs #14-0252 and 0253 were able to be captured by hand and put directly into crates. All bears were weighed prior to the move:

Yearling #14-0126: 33 kg
Cub #14-0252: 11 kg
Cub #14-0253: 13.6 kg
Cub #14-0350: 17 kg

Each bear was placed into its own crate and was carried to the Bear Complex. The staff quietly waited outside of the yard for the two anesthetized bears to fully wake up. As the team waited for cub #14-0350 to fully wake, yearling #14-0126 decided she had enough of the crate, and pulled the crate door off of the hinges – making her escape into the yard! The cubs were released into the yard soon thereafter.

The three cubs are sticking together and beginning to slowly explore their new half-acre. All three cubs attempted to climb a wrapped tree – so they only made it about four feet off the ground before they had to climb back down. The staff quickly left the area so that the cubs and yearling could reunite.

Black Bear Family #1 Moves to Bear Complex 2014

Both Black Bear families are doing well in the Center’s Bear Pens. The three cubs in family #1 have been weaned from formula and have transitioned onto an adult bear meal – the cubs are eating a variety of veggies, fruits, insects, dog food, seeds, nuts, and browse. The rehabilitation staff are ready to move these three growing cubs, along with their surrogate yearling sister, into the Bear Complex.

On May 29 and 30, some alterations were made to the inner and outer gates of the Bear Complex to ensure that they are “cub proof”. Additional material was welded under and around some areas of the gates where the team suspect cubs might try to slip through. As long as the work is finished this week, bear family #1 will be moved to yard #1 of the Bear Complex early next week.

The two cubs in family #2 are currently being weaned from formula; they are now offered their “mush bowls” just once a day, and are fed a variety of softened bear foods at the afternoon feeding. The rehabilitation staff were able to weigh cub #14-0224 on May 26; the female cub weighed in at 5.6 kg. The male cub stayed with the female yearling, and was unable to be weighed.

All of the Black Bears in the Center’s Bear Complex are doing well – both family groups are getting along [within each family unit] and can frequently be seen playing or sleeping on Critter Cam. On May 15, certified wildlife rehabilitator Kelli and rehab intern Jordan attempted to weigh the two cubs in Bear Pen #3 – they were only able to catch the female cub, who weighed in at 4.1 kg. The male cub preferred to stay near the yearling in the den.

The staff will continue to monitor the two bear families. Family #1 [the yearling and three cubs in Bear Pen #1] should be moved to the Bear Complex at the end of May.

Family Unit #2 – made up of yearling #14-0184, cub #14-0224, and cub #14-0394 – appear to be doing well together. The yearling showed immediate interest in the cubs when they were being slowly introduced in the zinger crate. The cubs were allowed out of the crate on May 7, and by the following morning, the yearling was vigorously wrestling with both cubs.

Both cubs in Bear Pen #3 were weighed on May 8 — cub #14-0224 weighed 3.44 kg; cub #14-0394 weighed 2.65 kg. Both cubs will continue to receive a mush bowl twice a day, although they have both already showed an interest in at least playing with some of the adult food in the enclosure.

Family Unit #1 in Bear Pen #1 continues to do well – these bears are quite active and can often be seen playing with each other on Critter Cam. The rehabilitation staff is no longer weighing these cubs due to their size, and the cubs often hide in the den with the yearling when humans approach. The cubs in this group have been seen eating adult food; certified wildlife rehabilitator Kelli cut these cubs back to one mush bowl a day.

All five Black Bear cubs are doing well at the Wildlife Center – they are eating well, and growing quickly!

Last year, the Center cared for 16 cubs – first in two groups of eight, then as one large group of 16. This year, the Center’s cub rehabilitation technique is different, because the Wildlife Center also has healthy female yearlings on hand. Because some of the cubs varied significantly in size and weight, the cubs were split into two different family groups — each with a surrogate female yearling bear. The yearlings act as a role model to the cubs, and the rehabilitation staff at the Center are able to take a more “hands off” approach.

The current line-up of bears includes:

Family Group #1 [Bear Pen #1, larger cubs]:
Yearling #14-0126
Cub #14-0252
Cub #14-0253
Cub #14-0350

Family Group #2 [Bear Pen #3, smaller cubs]:
Yearling #14-0184
Cub #14-0224
Cub #14-0394

Family group #1 has been doing really well since their April 18 introductions. The cubs have bonded to the surrogate yearling so much that, when they hear humans bringing food, they typically run into the den to hide with the yearling. Because the cubs have been gaining weight and doing well [as observed on the Critter Cam], the rehabilitation staff are no longer weighing these cubs. Once the cubs are weaned from formula bowls later this month, they will be moved into the Black Bear Complex.

Family group #2 begin introductions on May 5. #14-0224 currently weighs 3.33 kg and #14-0394 weighs 2.58 kg.

All cubs are still receiving two “mush bowl” feedings a day.

All of the bears in the Center’s Bear Pens are doing well. On April 22, new cub #14-0350 was introduced to the bear pen. The cub spent the first day in a zinger crate as a slow introduction to the other two cubs, and on the morning of April 23, was let out of the crate and into the enclosure. After the cubs ate their morning mush bowls, the three cubs quickly started wrestling and playing together.

Surrogate yearling #14-0126 was seen on Critter Cam beginning to interact with the cubs on the morning of April 23. While contact has still been limited, the yearling appeared to be sniffing and checking out a couple of the cubs. On the morning of April 24, female cub #14-0252 was observed [via Critter Cam] playfully swatting at the yearling’s face.

At this time, all three cubs are given mush bowls twice a day. On April 24, certified wildlife rehabilitator Kelli and wildlife rehabilitation intern Jordan weighed the cubs. When Kelli peeked into one of the dens, she saw cub #14-0350 snuggled against surrogate yearling #14-0126 — the cub did not want to come out to get weighed.

Current weights:

#14-0252: 4.20 kg
#14-0253:5.1 kg