In early spring, bear moms often “park” their tiny cubs in or next to a tall “refuge tree” while they go off to forage. The cubs can climb to safety if they feel threatened, and can sleep up in the branches, out of harm’s way, while they wait for mom to return. Mom may be gone for a while. Read more about “refuge trees” here.
Wildwoods got a call yesterday morning about a small cub all by herself. After touching base with Dr. Rogers at the Bear Center, we’ve asked the folks who called about the cub to keep an eye on her from a distance, while keeping curious onlookers, dogs, etc., away. We want to give mom every chance to come back and reclaim her cub.
Though mom is usually back within hours, Dr. Rogers says that sometimes she may be gone for a day or more, and he advises patience. Young bears learn so much from their mothers, and cubs need to be with mom to have their best chance for a successful life in the wild.
Nicole kept watch on the cub yesterday. A few times, the cub wandered away from her refuge tree, and we were worried. Would she get lost? Would she be ok? Were we doing the right thing by being “hands-off” and waiting for mom? The cub always came back, though, to climb up into the safety of the refuge tree’s branches and nap. She also drank a little of the special bear cub formula that we left in a bowl at the tree’s base.
This morning, the cub was gone, and we are hoping that she and mom are back together again. Nicole and her neighbors will still keep a watchful eye out for her, just in case.
Our response to solo bear cubs in spring is evolving, based both on our own (still quite limited) experience, as well as advice from people like Dr. Deb Eskedahl and Dr. Lynn Rogers. A few years ago, at this same point of spring, we got a call about an almost identical situation — a young cub on its own — sometimes up a tree, sometimes running and calling frantically for mom.
We were convinced that the cub was orphaned and tried our best, over the course of the next three days, to catch it. Luckily for that cub, we were unsuccessful (and worried sick about it!). After three days of intermittent sightings of the cub on its own and sightings of its mom with two cubs rather than three, it was finally spotted with its mom again.
Boy, was that experience a lesson for us! If we had succeeded in catching that cub, we would have functionally orphaned it, depriving it of all of mom’s care and teaching. So now, unless the cub is clearly not doing well — weak, lethargic, injured — we keep an eye on it for a few days, sit on our hands, and wait.
(Pic by Trudy Vrieze, of a cub a few falls ago.)
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