PAWS Magazine

Issue 39, Fall 1998

Bear Bonanza

PAWS bear cub population explodes to eight

When it rains it pours, and it definitely rained bears at the PAWS Wildlife Center this summer. Never having had more than two bear cubs at one time, the Wildlife Center is now filled to its limit with eight black bear cubs.

Wildlife Center officials are stumped as to a cause for their bear cub population explosion. "We do know that there has been an increase in urban encroachment into bear territory, and also the berry crop has been poor due to lack of rain," says Deb Dyson, the Wildlife Center’s Rehabilitation Manager.

The bear cub season started out typically for the Wildlife Center. Two very small bears arrived from the Aberdeen area on March 21. It was suspected that the cubs, a male and female, were abducted by brush pickers. The following month a female cub arrived from the Olympia area.

Then things quieted down for several months. In mid-June PAWS staffers drove down to Northern California and picked up a golden-colored female black bear at the request of the California Department of Fish and Game. One month later PAWS picked up a male cub whose mother was hit by a car on the Quinalt reservation.

With five bears, room was quite tight at the Wildlife Center facility. Hatch doors had to be cut in the concrete walls between enclosures, and more play apparatus had to be set up. And then things really got crazy in September.

On September 9, a female cub from the Omak area was brought in. Dr. Huckabee was able to surgically repair the cub’s lacerated ear (pictured above). Three days later a cub came in from the Cle Elum area. His mother had been hit by a car and the cub had been found huddled next to a dead cow that happened to be laying next to the road. Five days later the Wildlife Center received its eighth and final cub when a young female was brought in from the Leavenworth area. Her mother had been hit by a train.

Managing eight bears has been quite a challenge for the Wildlife Center. Five of the bears are being kept in one enclosure and the remaining three are being kept in an adjoining enclosure. Each of the bears is fed as much as 20 cups of puppy chow a day, as well as skunk cabbage, huckleberries, grasses, apples, fish, lichens, moss, worms and more.

Caring for eight bear cubs is very expensive. In addition to the cost of food, PAWS must spend money on veterinary supplies, transportation costs, transmitters, and staffing. All told, the cost for caring for each bear runs several thousands of dollars.

PAWS is currently preparing the bears for a December return to the wild. "We are at the stage of fattening them up," says Dyson. "In November we’ll start to slow them down and begin inducing hibernation."

If everything goes well, the bears will be released into winter dens in December, where they will sleep until springtime.

With such a heavy patient load with bears this year, the need for a large mammal facility is clearly apparent.

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