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TWRA: Black bear cubs seen alone might not be orphaned

The TWRA says an orphaned cub in the spring is likely to appear healthy unlike an orphaned cub in the fall that will be thin and in poor health. (Image: TWRA)

In response to numerous calls from concerned citizens regarding sightings of black bear cubs seen alone, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is issuing a reminder to residents and visitors that a cub that is alone might be that way for a good reason.

A mother bear, otherwise known as a sow, typically gives birth to as many as four cubs while in her winter den and emerges with them in the spring. Unfortunately, available food is scarce and the sow might cover great distances to replenish calories lost while denning and nursing. During this time, she often places her cubs in what she perceives to be a safe location and goes in search of food. TWRA Captain Willard Perryman equates it to a human mother leaving her children with a babysitter and heading to the grocery store to get something to eat and then returning home to feed them. In a bear’s case, the babysitter could be a tree in eyesight of someone’s home but the grocery store might not be visible.

TWRA Wildlife Biologist Dan Gibbs points out that TWRA has a system in place to address truly orphaned cubs through the Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend. ABR is permitted by TWRA to receive and care for sick, injured, and orphaned black bear cubs brought to them by TWRA. TWRA evaluates each case in the best interest of the cub and then decides if it is a candidate for rehabilitation through ABR. No one other than TWRA or the National Park Service is allowed to catch or deliver a cub to ABR.

David Whitehead, Curator at Appalachian Bear Rescue, says for the public to not jump to the conclusion that a cub is abandoned just because they do not see the mother and that a cub may remain alone for hours. An orphaned cub in the spring is likely to appear healthy unlike an orphaned cub in the fall that will be thin and in poor health.

TWRA’s protocol regarding abandoned cubs is that TWRA should only be contacted if the mother bear is confirmed to be dead or the cub remains alone for more than 36 hours. Appalachian Bear Rescue President Dana Dodd says that like human children, sometimes bear cubs will not mind their mother’s instructions to stay in one place and may wander off. She also points out that if a cub is seen alone, to back away and give the sow a chance to return. If someone is standing directly under a tree taking pictures of a cub, the mother might not come back as she feels threatened. Dodd goes on to say, “The worst thing you can do is to take a cub that is not truly orphaned from its mother. The best case scenario is for a cub is to remain with its mother because she can do a far better job at raising it than ABR can.”

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