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Friday, March 16, 2012



HARRISBURG – After finding three black bear cubs stranded along a road near Troy, Bradford County earlier this week, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today successfully completed a four-day race of locating and placing the two female cubs and one male cub in adoptive dens in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Three orphan bears await transport to Pike County:
Photo Courtesy of William Williams.

The clock started ticking on March 13, when Sullivan County Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Rick Finnegan responded to the Armenia Mountain area near Troy, to investigate reports from passing motorists that three bear cubs were at the base of a fence near a township road.

“The cubs all weighed less than 6.5 pounds and were unable to walk,” WCO Finnegan said. “The immediate and surrounding area was surveyed for several hours and no adult female bear was observed, and there was no evidence of a vehicle collision. This unusual set of circumstances seemed to indicate someone may have unlawfully handled the cubs and dropped them off at this location.”

Bear cubs in Pennsylvania are born in January, and weigh 12 to 14 ounces. Female bears generally give birth to cubs every other year, and the cubs are weaned in late spring or early summer.

“Cubs at this age are extremely vulnerable,” said William Williams, Game Commission Northeast Region Information and Education Supervisor. “The immediate concern was to get the bears warm and hydrated. Cubs nurse on milk that contains nearly 30 percent milk fat, which allows them to maintain body function while quickly gaining weight; it essentially is a fluid that has the caloric equivalent of whipped cream.”

Dave Sittler, Game Commission biologist aide, places one of the bear cubs from Bradford County with three new siblings in Pike County:
Photo Courtesy of William Williams

WCO Finnegan took the two females and one male bear home, put ear tags on them and fed them evaporated milk from a baby bottle.

“The three slept a good portion of the evening, as they grunted and hummed and snorted and snored,” WCO Finnegan said.

The next step, Williams said, was to find adult females in the area that had cubs and would be receptive to having one of these three cubs placed with them.

“The Game Commission has had success transplanting orphan cubs to other nursing sows where they may be accepted and reared as one of their own,” Williams said. “It is the only real chance the cubs have at survival. However, trying to place three could be a challenge and timing is everything.”

Fortunately, Williams noted, now is the time of year that Game Commission biologists are visiting bear dens to study health and population trends of black bears by obtaining biological information from radio-collared sows with cubs. After locating a radio-collared sow, the adult bear is tranquilized and its general health status is evaluated. Any cubs are fitted with ear tags to identify each individual and aid biologists in studying black bear growth and dispersal trends.

Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission veterinarian, hands off cub to be processed:
Photo Courtesy of William Williams

It just so happened that these annual studies were scheduled to take place in Pike, Lackawanna, and Luzerne counties during the remainder of the week.

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, March 14, WCO Finnegan transported the cubs to Columbia County where he met Williams to complete the relay to the Pocono Mountains to begin the placement process.

By 9 a.m., a small crowd gathered in a Delaware State Forest parking lot in Porter Township, Pike County. Dr. Walter Cottrell, Game Commission veterinarian, arrived shortly thereafter with Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist. Pike County WCO Mark Kropa had located a radio-collared sow that was known to be denning nearby. The small processing team made its way to the den site and soon the adult bear was tranquilized while her three cubs remained at her side.

After obtaining measurements and collecting biological information, the three cubs were fitted with ear tags and unceremoniously rubbed with dirt (to diminish human scent) before being attached to the sow’s nipples. Joining three offspring was one of the adoptive female cubs from Bradford County.

The team then traveled to the den of a second sow, only a few miles away. This bear was tucked into a ground den with her four cubs. The entire process was repeated and a second of the Armenia Mountain bears was provided with a new parent and siblings.

Today, March 16, at 10:30 a.m., the lone male cub of the litter was placed on State Game Land 180, Blooming Grove Township, Pike County, with a sow and her two cubs.

“It’s great when a plan comes together,” Williams said.

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