STATE: Leave bear cubs alone for their safety

Published 11:03 am Tuesday, March 23, 2021

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The N.C Wildlife Resources Commission is asking the public to contact them if they suspect they’ve encountered an orphaned bear cub. Black bears become more active in the spring after emerging from their winter dens, particularly in the western and eastern parts of the state. This includes female bears and their cubs born over the winter. They often leave the den together to explore their surroundings.

Occasionally cubs will temporarily get separated from their mamas. However, wildlife biologists at the Commission say that if you see a bear cub alone, it is rarely because it’s been abandoned. Often the mother bear is nearby foraging for food and will return in a few hours, or earlier. If you remain in the area or attempt to catch the cub, you could inadvertently separate it from its mother and possibly injure the cub.

If you suspect a cub has been orphaned, do not cub-nap it. Instead, give the mother plenty of room and time to reconnect with her cub. To avoid harming yourself or the bear cub:

  • Do not handle it.
  • Do not attempt to catch it.
  • Do not remove it.
  • Do not feed it.
  • Do take note of your location and call the NC Wildlife Helpline (866-318-2401). If after hours or on weekends, call your district wildlife biologist to report it.

A wildlife biologist will assess the situation. If it’s determined that the cub has been orphaned, it will be properly captured and taken to the agency’s licensed bear rehabilitators for immediate care.

“Luckily, these cubs have the help of the Commission and licensed bear rehabilitators. The rehabilitators know the treatments and specialized food needed,” stated Black Bear and Furbearer Biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel. “It’s imperative for the public to remember to never feed a bear. This will cause them to become habituated to people, making it more challenging for successful rehabilitation back into the wild.”

In fact, food is not often the first thing that that cubs need. Cubs require a very specialized diet and animal formulas purchased from the store, or other foods (pet food, fruit), can compromise their health.

“Do not trust resources on the internet about feeding and caring for a cub,” Olfenbuttel added. “Instead, call the Wildlife Commission immediately. It is illegal in North Carolina to keep a black bear cub without a captivity permit.”

The Wildlife Commission has been rehabilitating and releasing orphaned black bear cubs since 1976 to assure these cubs have the best chance of success once they are returned to the wild. Most recently the Commission assisted with the release of three bear cubs back into the wild as featured on episode seven of National Geographic WILD’s “Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina.”

Visit the Wildlife Commission blog to learn more about the agency’s black bear cub rehabilitation program.