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WV Wildlife: Bear Cubs Study

These black bear cubs are only about 2 months old. DNR biologists want to make sure that our bear populations are staying in good shape across the Mountain State. (WCHS/WVAH)

On a sunny, but cool day across the higher elevations of Fayette County, we take a hike.

A hike with DNR biologists--through the woods and down a steep ravine.

Our destination--a black bear den.

Colin Carpenter, Black-Bear Project leader with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and his crew, know where this particular bear is because she has a radio collar on; they've been tracking her for a while.

"We're visiting a female black bear that had given birth to cubs in January of this year", said Carpenter.

In the name of important research--their passion for our state animal outweighs any fear they may have of heights; good thing, because the hill, where the den's located, is very steep.

The goal? To make mom a little sleepy--via a tranquilizer--while they check on the health of her 2-month old cubs.

"This is actually an excavated den, where she had found a hole--and she enlarged it for her den, so she's way back under the hill", said Carpenter.

You may think of caves more when you picture a bear den, but Carpenter says bears can dig their own into a hillside--much like this one did. Even root-balls, from fallen large trees, can suffice.

After a couple of shots from the tranquilizer gun, and some reaching, the little ones--two brothers--are brought out.

It's probably not a surprise, but they aren't happy at first--but after some consoling, they settle down enough to be looked at. Essentially, it’s a doctor’s appointment.

"See if they're male or female and we weigh them. The other thing that we do is--we'll take a measurement of the hair and the ear length. There's a regression equation that's been developed to look at actually when--you can back date--find out when that cub was born based on the length of their hair and ear", said Carpenter.

Afterwards, these blue-eyed cubbies just want to cuddle--or even better--make it back to their warm and cozy den where mom is slowly waking up. Before that, though, they need their hair gelled some. It may sound strange, but Vick's Vapor Rub--applied to their fur--will mask the scent of humans. Otherwise, their mom could abandon them.

Female black bears are actually very unselfish, though. Although these cubs are her's genetically—mother bears are willing to take others in that aren't her's. This makes them great surrogate moms, too.

"She's a lactating female and we've had really good luck placing orphaned cubs with other mothers. They do a really good job of raising them; black bears--they're very good mothers", said Carpenter.

That recognition by our West Virginia DNR is part of the reason why our Black Bears continue to thrive here in the Mountain State.

We wish you the best, Cubbies!

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