Marc Kenyon, DFG Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-3515
Kirsten Macintyre, DFG Communications, (916) 322-8988
An orphaned black bear cub was safely returned to its remote northern California forest home this week after five months at a Lake Tahoe wildlife care facility. Once near death, the male yearling cub has been deemed by experts to be fully rehabilitated, healthy and very likely able to survive on its own.
The cub was emaciated and weak when it was first spotted by a logger working in the Lassen National Forest (Tehama County) last September. Evidence at the scene indicated that the tiny bear’s mother had died before it learned to forage for food on its own. It was also suffering from severe hair loss, which would have made it unlikely to survive the approaching winter.
A warden from the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) was able to easily capture the cub with a trap. When it arrived at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a licensed rehab center, the tiny bear weighed only 18 lbs. — far less than the usual weight of about 30 lbs. for a cub that age. With the assistance of charitable donations, staff at the nonprofit center treated the animal for ringworm and nursed it back to health over a five-month period.
This week, DFG biologists picked up the cub – which now weighs a hearty 90 lbs. – and transported it from Tahoe back to the Lassen National Forest. With the assistance of the U.S. Forest Service, the cub was tranquilized and transported deep into the woods, where it was tucked into a pre-dug bear den in a carefully selected, secluded spot in the heart of bear territory. The entrance to the den was covered and camouflaged, and the hope is that the young bear will return to his natural state of hibernation, emerging later this spring to build a new life in the same forest where he was born.
In 2010, five black bear cubs in similar condition were found in different locations and placed by DFG into care facilities for safety, temporary care and rehabilitation. Four of the cubs, all from northern California, were cared for at the Tahoe facility and returned to the wild over the last few weeks. The fifth cub, from Southern California, was transported to a care facility in Arizona.
According to Marc Kenyon, DFG’s Bear Program Coordinator, five cubs is the average number rehabilitated in licensed care facilities every year. They are typically found in the summer and fall, and are returned to the wild in the late winter, toward the end of the hibernation period.
In order to qualify for rehabilitation, a found cub must be clearly be both orphaned and in distress, as well as younger than a year old and unaccustomed to humans. Licensed rehabilitators are specially trained to assess the animal’s health and chances for survival, and to provide the cub with what it needs to survive — without taming it.
“We want to help these bears survive and return to the population, but in doing so, we must be sure that they don’t get used to being around people,” Kenyon said. “Once bears are no longer wary of people, they become ‘nuisance bears’ that are no longer wild.”
Throughout California, the black bear population has steadily been increasing over the past 25 years, and is now conservatively estimated to be around 40,000 statewide.Though black bears are not an endangered, threatened or protected species, the continued success of the population depends on the survival of tiny cubs such as this one.
Kenyon said that DFG’s goal in approving the careful rehabilitation and relocation of young bears is twofold. “We want to keep wild species wild, and to keep common species common,” he said. “You can’t do one without the other.”