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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Black Bear Den Visits

Of all the cool things I get to do in my job, the bear den visits inspire the most envy. Today, my Black Bear Management II class visited not one, but two black bear dens. Both were females with cubs and each was exciting in its own way.

Holding a black bear cub (Canisteo, NY 3/11)
Photo by Patty Wakefield
DEN #1: Our first den visit was near Canisteo, NY on a great family farm. As we waited to go into the den, we watched deer and turkey foraging in the cut corn field and investigated the tracks left by about half a dozen wild animal species in the area around the barn. The NYS DEC staff is the advance crew. They go in first and immobilize the adult. Then we come in (along with any other guests) and assist in the processing and data collection. The female weighed about 215 pounds and has been collared for several years. She is about seven years old. She had three cubs, two females and a male. One of my students took this photo of me holding a cub. The sacks help keep the bears warm as well as reduce the chances of humans or bears being injured. The cubs are not aggressive, but their claws are very sharp because they haven't been worn down at all.

The cubs are given a PIT tag and weighed. We also measure the hair and ear length to help estimate their age within a few week period. The female had dug a nice den into the side of a hill with a southern exposure. The soil was nice and sandy making the digging easier. This den visit went smooth as silk and everyone had the chance to see the adult and hold a cub.

Collared black bear in tree
(Campbell, NY 3/11)
Collared black bear in tree
(Campbell, NY 3/11)
DEN #2: Our second den visit was near the town of Campbell, NY. This visit was rained out last week, so we were all encouraged to see the blue skies. It was a vigorous hike to the den! My students and a few other folks were left about 150 yards from the den while the shooters went in to tranquilize the female. About 25 minutes later, we received a call that she had been darted but exited the den and started up a tree. They asked for several of us to bring the net, which we would hold under the tree to help break her fall. Well, as it turned out she just went higher and higher in the tree, despite being darted. The dart may have hit fat instead of muscle, making the drug ineffective. The dosage may have been light for her weight. Or.... who knows? There are no guarantees when it comes to immobilizing wild animals. I was able to snap a few shots and when it became apparent that she was not going to succumb to the drug, the decision was made to back off and let her return to her den (and cub). We were about 75 yards away when we saw her shimmy down the tree and go back to her den. 

How high was she? Well, I didn't measure and I am sure my guess would not be accurate. But here is a photo that will let you decide....

Treed black bear (Campbell, NY 3/11)

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