Black Bear cubs of 2021

Cause of Admission/Condition
Separated from mothers
Former Patient
Patient photo

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In April 2021, the Wildlife Center began admitting this year’s bear cubs from several locations throughout Virginia. The young bears will be cared for by the Wildlife Center until next spring, at the time when they would begin naturally dispersing from their mothers. The 2021 cubs will be released in the spring of 2022.

To limit human interaction, only a few staff care for the bear cubs. Depending on their age and condition when they arrive, cubs may live in a Zinger crate, in the Center’s Large Mammal Isolation enclosure, or in the Center’s Black Bear Complex. The Center has some set weight guidelines that help determine when cubs are ready to move to their next stage of housing; usually cubs move to the Large Mammal enclosure when they are more than 3.0 kg [typically in May] and are large enough to move to the Black Bear Complex when they are more than 10 kg [typically in July]. Cubs also must be weaned from formula before they are moved to the Black Bear Complex, where they have a half-acre of forest to explore.

Historically, at admission, each cub has a temporary colored tag placed in its ear so that the Center staff can monitor and identify the cubs from a distance. This year, the staff will postpone ear-tagging cubs until the bears are older — likely before they move into the Black Bear Complex this summer. For smaller cubs admitted during the spring months, the staff clip a small amount of fur on each bear and then paint the bare spot so that the bears still have a temporary identification system as the cub population grows.

Ultimately, most colored ear tags are removed prior to release and are replaced with permanent green ear tags from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, which identify the bears as rehabilitated cubs.

The 2021 bear cubs include:

Black Bear cub #21-0545, female, Double Lavender Tags
Black Bear cub #21-0592, male, Double Blue Tags
Black Bear cub #21-0705, female, Double Red Tags
Black Bear cub #21-1097, male, Yellow Tag
Black Bear cub #21-1427, female (one ear)

Frequently Asked Questions: Black Bear Cub Rehabilitation

Interested in taking a tour of the Black Bear Complex? Check out these "Great Rebuild" videos and learn more about the two-acre facility, and what work will need to be completed this year. 

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Patient Updates

The remaining three Black Bears of 2021 were picked up for release on April 20!

On the afternoon of April 19, wildlife rehabilitation supervisor Kelsey baited the DWR bear trap and the entire transition area of the Black Bear Complex with some tasty treats. The bears were very interested and quickly moved into the transition area when the adjoining gate was opened. Black Bear #21-1427 [One Ear] entered the DWR trap and was quickly contained; the other two bears remained in the transition area so that the veterinary team could easily dart and sedate them the following morning.

On Wednesday, April 20, the team was able to successfully sedate all three bears so that each could be examined, weighed, and ear-tagged for release. Bloodwork and skin scrapes were also performed. Final weights:

  • Black Bear #22-0545 [Double Lavender Tags]: 39.0 kg
  • Black Bear #21-1007 [Yellow Tag]: 59.1 kg
  • Black Bear #21-1427 [One Ear]: 52.2 kg

Two DWR biologists arrived to transport and release the bears in two separate locations. Double Lavender and Yellow Tag are being released together in the same remote location. The one-eared bear — who was the last cub to arrive in 2022 — will be released separately.

Later in the afternoon, DWR biologist Katie sent these two photos of the release of Black Bear #21-1427 [One Ear]!

DWR biologist Carl was able to take these photos of Black Bear #21-1007 [Yellow Tag]:

DWR biologist Katie Martin reported that the double Black Bear release went well on Tuesday, April 12! Both bears were transported to their release site; the DWR biologists did a full workup, including a physical examination, weight, skin scraping, and blood draw. The colored ear tags that were used at the Center for identification were removed and replaced with a green identification tag in each ear.

Katie reported that both bears looked great; Black Bear #21-0705 [Double Red Tags, female] weighed in at 28.2 kg and Black Bear #21-0592 [Double Blue Tags, male] weighed 41.8 kg.

Once the examination was over and both bears recovered, they quickly ran off in their new home. Katie said “the female was gone so fast, it was actually amazing. The male was a little slower, then got into the woods and took off.”

The remaining three Black Bears at the Wildlife Center will be released on Wednesday, April 20.

It’s time to start the releases of the Black Bears of 2021! On April 11, the Department of Wildlife Resources Black Bear Biologist stopped by the Center to bait the two bear transport traps in the Black Bear Complex. The biologists are planning on picking up two bears on the morning of Tuesday, April 12 – assuming that the bears take the bait tonight after the rehabilitation staff opens the gate between the yard and the transition area, where the traps are set.

The DWR biologists will be picking up the transport traps and taking them to the release location. The biologists will sedate the bears in the field at the release site to do final health checks, blood draws, weights, and ear-tagging. We’ll stay tuned for updates from DWR!

6:49 p.m. update: 

At the end of the day, wildlife rehabilitator Kelsey opened the gate that connects the yard and transition areas, allowing the bears full access to the baited traps. Immediately, Black Bear cub #21-0592 [Double Blue Tags] and Black Bear #21-0705 [Double Red Tags] each entered a trap and were successfully contained!

On Tuesday, March 29, a biologist with the Department of Wildlife Resources brought two culvert bear traps and placed them in the transition area of yard #1 in the Black Bear Complex. The traps are baited with lots of tasty goodies, but are not set – the goal is to allow the bears to get comfortable with the traps and want to spend time in them, so that the yearlings can be quickly and effectively caught prior to their April release dates.

The current plan is for DWR biologists to pick up two bears for release on Wednesday, April 13. It’s likely that for the first two bears, the DWR biologists will take the bears and perform the complete pre-release work up at the release location, to provide some hands-on experience for DWR biologists. The remaining three bears will be trapped and picked up for release on Wednesday, April 20. For this release, the Wildlife Center staff will anesthetize the bears prior to release to perform a complete physical examination at the Center, including ear tagging, blood draw, a weight, and preventative parasite treatment.

In February, the Center’s rehabilitation staff contacted biologists at the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to start planning this year’s Black Bear release. The current plan is to split the bears into two groups and do two releases in April—two bears in the first release, and the remaining three in the second release. As the release dates get closer, DWR will drop off large culvert traps at the Center so the rehabilitation team can get them set up to capture the bears.

During the past month, the Center’s rehabilitation team has carefully adjusted the bears’ diets to suit their growing activity levels and help them gain weight before their eventual release. In the wild, this is the time of year when Black Bears are starting to emerge from their dens and becoming more active; Critter Cam viewers who have been watching the Center’s bears on Critter Cam 1 are likely to see them become more active as well.

Critter Cam viewers who have been watching the Center’s bear cubs on cam may have noticed a new resident in the black bear complex this past week—a Virginia Opossum. Center staff have observed the opossum in the bear yard several times throughout the week and suspect that it was attracted to leftover food that the bears did not eat.

On December 6, the bears got an up-close encounter with the opossum for the first time. At first wary, the bears soon took interest in the opossum and cornered it in a small tree. When one of the bears began to climb the tree, the opossum fell and had a brief standoff with bears. Rehabilitation staff drove by the complex in the Center’s new Polaris to deliver food, which attracted the bear’s attention and gave the opossum time to get away. Because the bear complex is designed to prevent the bears from climbing out, and because of the opossum’s large size, the rehabilitation staff are unsure if the opossum is able to get out of the enclosure. Footage of the opossum showed an area of matted fur on its back; the rehabilitation staff are concerned that the opossum may be injured, or could be injured if one of the bears is able to capture it.

On December 7, the rehabilitation staff moved the Center’s five black bear cubs into the transition area of yard #1 and entered the main yard to look for the opossum. They were unable to find the opossum but did set up live traps with the hope of capturing it. If captured, the veterinary team planned to assess the opossum for injuries, and admit it as a patient if needed. If the opossum was uninjured, it would be released outside of the bear complex on the other side of the Center’s property.

On December 9, after two days without signs of the opossum, the rehabilitation team removed the live traps and gave the bears access into the main yard. They plan to check transition yard #1 for the opossum once all of the bears have moved.

The five Black Bear cubs in the Center’s Bear Complex have been eating and growing during these past couple of months. Now that fall has arrived, the cubs have entered hyperphagia, a period of excessive eating and drinking to fatten up before winter arrives. In the wild, bears spent up to 20 hours a day eating a variety of calorie-dense foods that will help supply them with 20,000 calories a day or more.

During the past week, the rehabilitation staff more than doubled the bears’ diet — from 50 lbs of food a day to 125 lbs of food a day. The bears are now being fed twice daily (~62 lbs at each feeding) to ensure that food is always available and to help alleviate any stress of finding enough quality food. The staff are particularly emphasizing nuts, mealworms/superworms, fish, chicks, and other proteins, in addition to high-quality fruits and vegetables. Ideally, the staff will see some leftover food each day, which will indicate that each bear is getting its share of preferred food substances.


The five Black Bear cubs are settling in well to their yard in the Black Bear Complex. Despite the thick growth of trees and shrubs in the yard, Critter Cam viewers are typically able to spot the cubs multiple times a day, particularly when the cubs are eating together.

Double Lavender has still been exhibiting some intermittent pacing behavior, most notably when she returns to the transition area. The staff and cam viewers have also seen her relaxing in the yard with the other cubs, as well as foraging and eating. The staff will continue to monitor her behavior.

Here’s a look at the bears' first steps in their new area last week!

The five Black Bear cubs were successfully moved to yard #1 in the Black Bear Complex on Wednesday, July 28. A couple of the bears were anesthetized for a physical examination and ear tagging; other bears were simply loaded into a Zinger crate and then loaded onto the Center’s electric vehicle for transport.

The bears were all placed in the transition yard, a smaller portion of the bear yard where they could safely wake up and recover. After all were awake and ready to explore, the rehabilitation staff opened the adjoining gate into the main portion of the bear yard.

Critter Cam viewers may try to catch a glimpse of the cubs on two different cameras, offering full coverage of the half-acre space. This area has not been used since spring of 2020, so the yard is full of dense vegetation. Tricky for spotting bear cubs, but excellent enrichment and natural habitat for bear cubs to forage, dig, climb, and play.

Current tags and weights as of July 28:

Black Bear cub #21-0545, female, Double Lavender Tags: 13.2 kg
Black Bear cub #21-0592, male, Double Blue Tags: 15.7 kg
Black Bear cub #21-0705, female, Double Red Tags: 16.4 kg
Black Bear cub #21-1097, male, Yellow Tag: 12.8 kg
Black Bear cub #21-1427, female (one ear): 16.8 kg

All work has been completed at the Black Bear Complex, and one of the rehabilitation externs, Ben, is putting the finishing touches on a newly constructed tire bridge for the cubs! Ben spent this week creating a sturdy chain of tires that will be hung between two trees.


The cameras in the Black Bear Complex are also now in place and ready for the season; one camera is on the side of Tower #1 and looks down into the full length of Yard #1, where the cubs will be moved. The second camera is on the back of Tower #1, to offer complete coverage of the entire "back yard". Yard #1 hasn’t been used since the spring of 2020, when the "cubs of 2019" were released.


The rehabilitation staff will finish weaning Double Lavender Tags from her medications this week; this may mean that her pacing increases as the medications gradually leave her system. The staff will carefully monitor the bear’s behavior when she moves to the Complex next week.

At this point, the staff is planning to move the cubs to the Black Bear Complex on Wednesday, July 28.

On July 4, wildlife rehabilitator Katie noted that the nails on the front paws of Black Bear #21-1097 [Red Tag] appeared to be abnormally angled. Dr. Jenn was able to more carefully examined the cub under anesthesia and noted many of the cub’s nails had broken or split and started to regrow, giving them a more crooked appearance. It’s likely that the bear’s climbing and roughhousing contributed to the condition of the nails.

Dr. Jenn cleaned and trimmed the nails to encourage straight growth, and applied a topical spray to prevent any infections. The cub also received an antibiotic injection and a dose of anti-inflammatories, as it’s likely that walking on the nails may be uncomfortable. While the cub was under anesthesia, Dr. Jenn did a physical examination on the cub and found that he was in good body condition, though she also noted a skin infection associated with the site of the new red ear tag. The tag was temporarily removed to prevent any additional issues.

Double Lavender Tags, the bear that has had pacing issues for the past couple of months, has continued to do well on her daily medication. The rehabilitation staff have not seen as pacing lately, and the bear is interacting and playing with the other cubs normally. At this point, the bear is receiving two different medications; one is offered once a day, and the other is offered two to three times a day. The staff will slowly wean the bear off of the medications prior to moving all cubs to the Black Bear Complex later this month.

Throughout the weekend, wildlife rehabilitation intern Ben carefully monitored Black Bear cub #21-0545 and worked through a method of delivering all of the bear’s new medication in small servings of tasty formula "mush". On Saturday, Ben noted that the bear seemed calmer and was pacing less, though her paw wounds appeared to be bothering her. On Sunday, the bear also seemed to decrease her pacing behavior and was spotted cuddled with two other cubs on top of one of the climbing stumps in the Large Mammal enclosure.

On Monday, June 7, the veterinary team brought the bear into the clinic to recheck the cub’s paws; Dr. Karra reported that most of the wounds were improving, with the exception of one on the middle toe of each front foot. Since the cub was already anesthetized for the examination, Dr. Karra and team placed bandages on the bear’s feet to keep the abrasions clean. The cub recovered and was taken back to the Large Mammal enclosure.

The rehabilitation staff will continue to medicate the bear, since this seems to have an impact on the bear’s behavior.

The staff have continued to carefully assess Black Bear cub #21-0545 and her increased amount of pacing. Sadly, the medication that the veterinary team started on June 3 seems to have had no effect. The staff will try one more different type of medication to see if that provides any relief. Since the Bear Pen seemed to make no difference for the young cub, the rehabilitation staff moved the bear back to the Large Mammal enclosure for observation.

Rehabilitators Kelsey and Shannon carefully assessed the bear in the right half of the Large Mammal enclosure on the evening of June 3. One additional variable that the staff wanted to assess was if the presence of humans (particularly the bear’s caregivers) made any difference in her behavior; if the bear was pacing because she wanted to be with humans, this would suggest that the cub was habituated to humans, but at least would explain the behavior. After quietly sitting in the enclosure with the bear for a period of time, offering food intermittently, the rehab staff concluded that the bear was not seeking the presence of humans; the young cub continued pacing.

After a period of time, they let the cubs intermingle once again throughout the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure. The bear took a brief nap on the elevated climbing platform in the right half of the enclosure, and then woke up and began pacing again.

The new medication will continue to be offered for several days; the staff hope that they may be able to move the cub up to the Bear Complex, if one of the transition areas can be utilized in between different repair jobs. Sadly, the staff have not been able to determine any causes of this distressing behavior.

Now that the total number of Black Bear cubs is up to five, and the smallest cubs of the group weighed in at about 5 kg this past week, the rehabilitation staff decided to open both sides of the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure and allow the cubs to have more space to explore and climb. The cubs are currently ranging in size from 5.35 kg (#21-1097) to 8.10 kg (#21-0705).

The staff have been carefully assessing Black Bear cub #21-0545 during the past two weeks; unfortunately, that cub has been showing an increased amount of pacing during the day. While it’s not uncommon to see this activity intermittently, particularly from older cubs that have spent more time in the wild before coming into captivity, the amount of pacing has been concerning to the staff. Pacing can be due to a number of issues: the cub may be distressed about the location/space (too open, not open enough), being housed with other bears (or not), or the amount of stimulation (too much going on with the other cubs, or not enough enrichment provided to occupy the bear). Those variables make it difficult to solve this issue simply, though the staff have been increasing enrichment, allowing more space (through opening both sides of the LMI), and have also tried medicating the bear to sedate her. On June 1, the staff decided to test one more variable and move the cub to the Center’s Bear Pens, a much quieter space with less stimulation. Newest cub #21-1427 was also moved with the bear to provide company, leaving three cubs in the Large Mammal enclosure.

Sadly, on June 2, the staff reported that there was no change in the young bear’s behavior. The cub has wounds on her paws; the veterinary team sedated the bear on the afternoon of June 2 to treat the wounds and also carefully do a full medical evaluation. The physical examination was unremarkable; blood was drawn and will be analyzed in the Center’s laboratory.

The staff ordered a different type of medication to see if the cub’s stress level can be decreased until she can be moved to the Black Bear Complex, but much work needs to be completed there as a part of the Great Rebuild campaign, so this may not offer a short-term solution. The staff are distressed by this turn of events; this pacing, stressed behavior seems to be a sudden change, since the bear exhibited normal cub behavior when she was housed indoors at a younger age. The cub could be a particularly stressed individual, or could also have an actual abnormality in her brain.

The other cubs are eating well and growing. Work will soon begin on the Black Bear Complex in preparation for moving the cubs later this summer.

The four Black Bear cubs of 2021 are doing well in the Center’s Large Mammal Isolation enclosure. The littlest cub, #21-01097, has been living in a Zinger crate in between feedings to ensure that he isn’t able to slip out of the enclosure; on May 19, wildlife rehabilitator Kelsey decided that the cub was now large enough to roam with the other cubs.

The cubs are growing quickly and exploring a variety of food items. The young bears are given a specialized bear formula two or three times a day; most cubs are preferring to eat their thickened formula from a "mush bowl", though one cub still prefers to be bottle-fed. The cubs are also given soft fruits and veggies to try.



Weights, feedings, and other details from the rehabilitation staff are as follows:

Female cub #21-0545: 4.75 kg, twice daily mush bowls. Kelsey describes this bear as extremely energetic and playful — an "energizer bunny with toe knives and teeth." Loves to run around, climb, wrestle, and pounce.

Male cub #21-0592: 3.30 kg, bottle-fed twice daily. This cub has shown a strong preference for being bottle-fed. Playful with the other cubs but mostly interested in getting his bottle from the rehabilitation staff.  After that, he runs around and play/wrestles with the other cubs, but he’s usually the subordinate.

Female cub #21-0705 [small pink patch]: 5.35 kg, twice daily mush bowls. Very wary of rehabilitation staff but playful with other cubs.

Male Cub #21-1097 [small blue patch]: 2.20kg, bowl-fed three times a day. Just emerged from his Zinger crate full-time, still discovering this little cub and getting to know his personality!

The three Black Bear cubs have been doing well during the past few weeks; each cub is gaining weight and eating well. Current weights and feeding schedules are:

Cub #0705: 4.26 kg, bowl-fed twice a day

Cub #0592: 2.80 kg, bottle-fed three times a day

Cub #0545: 4.10 kg, bowl-fed twice a day

The cubs have been housed together in a Zinger crate, though explore and play in an enclosed space during feeding times. The rehabilitation staff have taken a couple of videos of the playful cubs settling in together (along with their favorite roommate, an enormous stuffed bear).

On May 12, the rehabilitation staff moved the trio to one side of the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure. The two larger cubs are able to safely explore the space on their own, though the smaller cub is enclosed in a Zinger crate when staff are not present during feeding time. For now, the cubs will remain in the left half of the LMI; once they are more agile and better at climbing, they’ll be allowed to roam the full Large Mammal enclosure, which contains more climbing structures. The rehabilitation staff are returning a camera to the left half of the Large Mammal enclosure; if all goes well, the cubs will soon be on Critter Cam! The newest cub, #21-1097, will be introduced to the other cubs in the next day or two.

The cubs will remain in the Large Mammal enclosure for the next month or two while work is completed on the Black Bear Complex as a part of the Great Rebuild; a number of repairs will need to be made before the cubs can move. The rehabilitation staff also typically prefer the cubs to be more than 10 kg prior to moving to the Black Bear Complex; historically, the move has taken place sometime during the summer.