Biologists at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission say if you find a bear den, leave it alone. Black bears are very resourceful in finding places to shelter late December through April as cold weather lingers and cubs are born. Dens may be found in rock cavities, brush piles, tree cavities, excavations under fallen trees, ground nests, under decks and in crawlspaces. As a result, you may stumble upon a bear den anytime you are outdoors, whether hiking, working in your yard, cutting firewood or enjoying outdoor activities.
If you find a den, either on your property or on public property, do not panic. Leave the area quickly and quietly, and do not disturb the den for the rest of the winter season. If the den is under your deck, shed, or crawlspace, leave the area and call the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, or contact your local district wildlife biologist for further guidance. In almost all cases, homeowners can safely co-exist with the bear until it leaves the den in the spring.
If you inadvertently flush a female bear from her den, do not approach the area. Keep any dogs on a leash and leave immediately. The female will return to the den if you leave it alone, even if she does not return right away. Do not go back to the den area, as additional disturbance may cause the bear to leave permanently.
Wildlife Commission staff have already investigated a report of an orphaned male cub in eastern North Carolina this winter.
“We received a call from the public about a cub found by itself and quickly investigated the situation,” stated Colleen Olfenbuttel, the black bear & furbearer biologist with the Wildlife Commission. “The den was likely disturbed, and we safely delivered the 4- to 5-week-old male cub to one of our two licensed rehabilitators specialized to care for orphaned cubs. Thanks to the correct response by the caller, we were able investigate, confirm the cub was orphaned and get the cub the care it needed within hours of the initial call, better assuring the cub’s eventual release back into the wild.”
The Wildlife Commission recently released a video about their cub rehabilitation program, highlighting the time and care that goes into ensuring a cub is ready for release back into the wild after capture.
“We are fortunate to have two fantastic rehabbers in the state that are highly skilled at rehabilitating black cubs. They work closely with us on the care needed to assure the cubs will be successfully released,” said Olfenbuttel. “But we’d much prefer that the bears stay in the wild with their mother, so please don’t accidentally cub-nap a bear cub; call us immediately if you suspect a cub is orphaned so we can investigate.”
As spring arrives, black bears will emerge from their dens and become more active. Sometimes humans will come across cubs that are alone, waiting for their mothers to return from foraging and exploring. It’s best to assume these bears are not orphaned. However, if you suspect a cub has been orphaned, do not handle or pick it up, feed it, or worse yet, remove it. The best thing to do is leave the cub alone, note the location and contact the NC Wildlife Helpline or your district wildlife biologist.
By Mindy Wharton