June 17, 2013
Virginia can be considered bear country and the State Biologist with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries estimates that there are 17,000 bears in the Commonwealth.
In 2012, The Wildlife Center of Virginia fostered 17 bears total for the year. This Spring alone, they have 17 bears, breaking a record for the number of bears at the center at once.
The bear cubs are taking over The Wildlife Center of Virginia. The cubs are now old enough to be raise with as little human interaction as possible but the wildlife center "Critter Cams" are watching them 24 hours a day.
Amanda Nicholson, the Director of Outreach at The Wildlife Center of Virginia said, "We are not really giving them anymore human contact as this point. The enclosure they're in now has some feeding tubes where we're able to shovel food down in tube so they don't really see it coming from us. We're just giving them time and each other and we're also providing them with lots of different enrichment toys."
The number of bears this season is no coincidence. The black bear population is growing significantly this year.
Nicholson said, "There is something going on called cub synchrony. The year before last, or the winter before last, there wasn't a very good massed crop. Meaning, that there weren't a lot of nuts and fruits from the forest out there. So, a lot of the bears didn't reproduce that year."
This past winter was much better. So, many sows, or mother bears, had babies. Nicholson said is some ways they are doubling up.
Right now, the 17 bear cubs are living in a make shift bear den.
Nicholson explained, "It's a large concrete block enclosure. It's really designed to keep adult injured bears quiet and in a small area. It's definitely not our ideal setup for cubs but we have continued to add cubs in there as they've come in."
The Wildlife Center of Virginia is in the process of building a new bear pen. It will allow the bears to have more room to run around and also in a more natural environment.
Nicholson described the new pen, "It will feel like a fenced in part of the forest where they'll have trees and lots of things to play with and they can practice climbing and plenty of room to run around and be cubs."
The ultimate goal is to release the bear cubs back into the wild by the Fall. The Wildlife Center of Virginia is working with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to figure out the best time to release each cub depending on their weight and size.
The current building in construction is Phase I. Phase II will start in the next couple of months and the center is still looking to raise $100,000 for the project.
To view the bear cubs, visit The Wildlife Center of Virginia's website.