Black Bear cubs #24-0136, #24-0137, and #24-0138

Admitted
February 14, 2024
Released
February 29, 2024
Rescue Location
Orange County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Den disturbance
Status
Former Patient
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On February 14, the Wildlife Center admitted the first Black Bear cubs of 2024. The three cubs came from Orange County after their den was accidentally disturbed during brush clearing at a construction site; their mother ran off. The construction crew immediately stopped the equipment to contact DWR; a biologist was dispatched to assess the scene and decided that, even though the crew was willing to leave the den in place for the mother to return, because one of the cubs was injured and there was ongoing construction in the area, it was safer to transport the cubs to the Center.

On admission, the three eyes-closed bears — each roughly the size of a large potato — were assessed by the veterinary team. Cub #24-0136, a female weighing 750g, and cub #24-0137, a male weighing 870g, were both active and healthy aside from mild skin lesions that might be caused by ringworm.

The third cub, however, was much smaller at only 500g and had a deep laceration on the top of his left hind leg. The leg was very swollen, and vet staff are concerned that the cub’s nerves or joints might be damaged. The vet team bandaged the cub’s leg, and are providing pain medication to keep him comfortable. Because of the cub’s young age, his bones have not fully ossified and the team doesn’t immediately understand the extent of the damage, but his prognosis is grave.

Currently, all three cubs are receiving around-the-clock care in the Center’s ICU, with bottle feedings of formula every six hours, even throughout the night.

              

At the same time, DWR is looking into the option of placing these cubs with a wild foster mother. Black Bear mothers will often care for cubs that have been added to their litter, but due to the poor acorn crop last fall, not many of the collared bears that DWR tracks have given birth to cubs, so finding a foster mother will be difficult.

DWR bear biologist Katie Martin noted that fostering options are limited this year and that there are many considerations when seeking a suitable placement. Kate explained that biologists need to assess "the location of the female [and] den where we’d try to foster these cubs, the age of the female, the number of cubs she already has, and even the weather! We want to limit disturbance to the wild females that are out there and denned with cubs; these warmer winters are making that trickier since the females tend to be a bit more active in their den earlier in the year."

If the cubs are not able to be fostered, they will stay at the Wildlife Center and be raised under the care of the rehabilitation team, with the hope that the cubs can eventually be released back into the wild next spring once they are old enough and have the skills to survive on their own.

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Patient Updates

During the past week, DWR biologists visited several Black Bear dens in search of a foster mother for the cubs. They located two dens with potential foster mothers, and early in the morning on February 29, they picked up the cubs from the Center to bring them to dens. Once at the dens, they planned to anesthetize the mother bears to assess their overall health and the number and size of the cubs already in the den.

The first den the biologists checked was not a success. Once they anesthetized the mother and entered the den, they found that she was already caring for four cubs that each weighed about four pounds, much larger than the two they hoped to foster. Placing the cubs in that den would have been a burden on the mother, and given the size difference, she may have chosen not to care for the new additions to her litter. The mother bear was fitted with a GPS collar and safely returned to her cubs after the exam. Though this den wasn’t a good fit, the mother bear can potentially serve as a foster for future cubs.

The second den, however, was a good match! Biologists did not anesthetize the mother bear at this location due to difficulty accessing her, but from prior monitoring and what they saw, she was very healthy and only had two cubs, both of them almost exactly the same size as the two cubs from the Center. The biologists reported that she was "in a great spot to take on a couple of fosters" and gently placed cubs into the den. Though it can be difficult to monitor an active bear den, so far the mother appears to be appropriately caring for her new cubs.

DWR biologists have left the site to give the mother space and privacy to care for her litter. They plan to monitor both dens from a distance tomorrow to be sure the mothers do not abandon the cubs.

During the past week, the rehabilitation staff have been coming into the Center ‘round-the-clock to feed the three young Black Bear cubs. The two healthy cubs have been growing at a rapid pace, with the male cub currently weighing 1035 grams and the female cub weighing 875 grams – each gaining more than 100g in a week!

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The staff have remained quite concerned about the third cub, who sustained a serious leg injury prior to admission. While the wound on the bear’s leg has been healing well, the overall condition of the crushed leg has not shown any improvement. On February 21, the veterinary team took another set of radiographs of the cub and noted significant abnormal changes to the injured leg, and also identified a significant fracture to a growth plate on the bear’s other hind leg. Assessing the extent of fractures in bears this young can be quite challenging, but Dr. Karra confirmed a number of substantial issues for the cub. The veterinary team decided to humanely euthanize the injured cub.

The staff will continue to care for the two healthy cubs; the Department of Wildlife Resources has not had many leads on a suitable foster mother for the cubs, though biologists are checking two den sites this week.