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WV Wildlife: Black Bear Surrogate Mothers

These radio collars will help WVDNR biologists find these bears if orphaned cubs need a surrogate mother. (WCHS/WVAH) 

Black bears make great mothers.

Our state animal is so unselfish that they are even willing to take in orphaned cubs and raise them as their own.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologists understand the importance of this; that's why they've been trying to find a few viable candidates this summer. In Fayette County, they’ve found several female bears that fit that description.

Colin Carpenter, Black Bear Project Leader with the WVDNR, says it’s important to find these potential mom’s as early as possible.

"We keep about 10 radio-collared females in West Virginia to use as surrogates when we have orphaned cubs in the spring", said Carpenter.

Without this hard work done by the biologists, the odds for any cubs to survive--who lost their mom's--would be much, much lower.

"It doesn't save every cub, because sometimes you get cubs--you get them much later in the spring when the family groups are already out moving on their own--but it helps us with usually 3 or 4 cubs", said Carpenter.

That can make a difference in keeping our bear population up and healthy.

These snares, which have a treat to draw the animals in, are briefly frustrating for these black bears--but once the drug kicks in, it all becomes just a dream.

The main purpose of this work is finding surrogate mothers, but the data collected here also helps understand the bears behavior, too—and how it can change over a year.

"We check every 24 hours. I'm also getting some good den entrance and emergence data from these collars as well, which is something we didn't have before unless you were doing some intensive tracking", said Carpenter.

Since it's summer, these adult bears are at their lowest body weight of the year--but they'll fatten up on fruits and nuts later this fall.

After a tooth, hair sample and their measurements are taken--a radio collar is placed on these black bears. That way, biologists can find them next year--should a cubby or two needs to find a new home.

"Typically when we see those orphaned cubs is usually mid to late-April or early-May is when they are typically showing up”, said Carpenter.

We should be proud of our state animal—Carpenter explains why.

“They're a native species, they're incredibly adaptable, they're an omnivore. They can also live in a lot of different habitats, and they are our largest predator here in West Virginia--even though they are primarily vegetarians. We have a very good bear population".

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