A trio of black bear cubs who were orphaned after their mother was hit by a car earlier this week in Union County have now been reintroduced to new sows who also have cubs of their own.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Doty McDowell heard about the cubs after receiving an email from the PGC's regional office and took two of the cubs-- both males --to reintroduce to collared sows with cubs in his coverage area.
"I happen to have three collared black bear sows. This year, one has yearlings, so that's obviously not a candidate, but the other two had cubs," McDowell said.
The third cub, a female, was reintroduced to a sow with cubs in the southwest region.
McDowell placed the first of the cubs with a new sow on Wednesday morning.
"What you do is you take the bear out and, using telemetry, you get a feel for where the sow is. Then, once you think you're pretty close, you just start out on foot," McDowell said.
The hope is that the sow's cubs will eventually be spotted climbing a tree, he explained.
"Their only real defense at this age, other than their mother, is climbing, so what you look for is your cubs going up a tree when you get close," McDowell said. "[Wednesday], actually, the first one we got so close so quickly that it (the sow) was standing at the bottom of the tree when the cubs were still going up."
After the sow ran off, one of the male cubs was covered with "a little bit of leaf litter" and encouraged to climb the tree with the sow's other cubs.
"This one did very well," McDowell said of that cub. "Now what will happen is obviously it's ear-tagged, but it won't be until next winter when we go back to the den-- we visit these dens every year-- and it won't be until next winter when we go back to the den to see if this cub is there. If this cub gets killed by the mother or she doesn't accept it, or it's harvested or just dies of natural causes, sometimes we never know. We just go back to the den, and if it's there, then obviously we know it was positive, and if it's not there and doesn't show up in the harvest, then sometimes you just never know what happened."
Having people care for the cubs is not really an option because the PGC does not want them to become habituated to humans.
"We used to have people that would care for them, but then they get to the point where you really can't put them back in the wild," McDowell said.
While there is a risk that the cubs might not survive, he remarked that the Game Commission believes reintroducing them to new sows is still the best option.
"Because our bear population is so strong, we just feel as an agency that it's the best thing to do," McDowell said.
McDowell did not have as much luck placing the second cub on Wednesday and planned to try again on Thursday morning.
"I wasn't able to find cubs with the other bear," McDowell said. "I never saw the bear, but considering she was quite a ways away from her original den and in the middle of a clear cut with no real place to send her cubs up a tree, I'm kind of questioning whether she even has cubs now. I'm not sure what happened."
He indicated that if he was unable to locate cubs with that sow, he planned on meeting up with the PGC's bear biologist and introducing the cub to a sow in the Sproul State Forest.
According to McDowell, there have been nine black bear cubs orphaned throughout the state so far this year.
"I think that's high," McDowell said. "I've had collared bears since 2011 and I think this is the fourth time I've been given an orphaned cub."
The Elk Country Visitor Center indicated on their Facebook page on Friday morning that both cubs had been reintroduced to new sows. McDowell stopped at the center with the cubs on Monday afternoon after he picked up the cubs because they needed to be fed.
"I didn't take them to the Visitor Center to expose these animals to people and all the unnatural environments. I picked these bears up and they haven't really been fed in two days. They needed fed quickly, so I took them to the Visitor Center just because I know the staff there has had some experience with wildlife, plus they needed fed anyway and why not give the opportunity to anybody that's at the visitor center to see them?" McDowell said.
While these bear cubs were rescued by the PGC because their mother was known to be dead, McDowell stressed the importance of leaving wild animals, particularly baby animals, alone if people come across them in the wild.
"Every spring we get people finding fawns and all kinds of stuff," McDowell said. "Even wild mothers need a break. These wild deer, they're not attached to their fawns every day and all day long. They'll put them in the grass in a hider strategy where they'll put them down low, and then they go off. They feed, they drink, they do whatever they need to do."
He added that most animals do not abandon their young unless they are dead or if they sense something is wrong.
"We would recommend, if you find a baby animal, don't touch it, and if you really think there's an issue, call the Game Commission," McDowell said.