The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Cubs enjoy new digs, cavorting on camera
Since the middle of this summer, I’ve been indulging in the video version of crack: watching 16 bear cubs cavort about their new enclosure at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
On one of the center’s several “critter cams” that stream live images of animals at the facility, I’ve seen the ever-growing cubs wrestle, climb on logs and—as if on cue—collapse for naps.
Aside from its captivating nature, the feed is an indication that big changes are underway in the way orphaned bear cubs are kept at the wildlife center. And, in a larger context, in the state as a whole.
According to WCV President Ed Clark, the facility in Waynesboro didn’t previously have space for large numbers of cubs, having just one small building designed for injured or diseased cubs.
He said that in years past, a Virginia Tech research project provided a place for orphaned cubs to go. Since it ended, he said, there hasn’t been a go-to place for orphaned bear cubs that could provide large numbers of them with an eventual successful release into the wild.
The need took on a higher public profile last year when two orphaned black bear cubs found in the Roanoke area were euthanized after being turned over to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
That prompted a considerable public backlash, though DGIF noted that early reporting of the incident didn’t make it clear both cubs were injured when found, one paralyzed and bleeding.
Clark said the incident helped move the wildlife center and the agency to partner up on a solution to the ever-growing number of orphaned black bear cubs: a natural area that will prepare them for release into remote areas of the state.
It’s a $440,000 complex that’s being completed in two phases, with DGIF covering $200,000 of the cost and the center the rest.
The first phase was the completion this summer of a large-mammal isolation enclosure, a 40- by 16-foot building that has separate pens at either end and rolling and double doors in the middle.
Said Clark, “It’ll be a place for new bears to come in and calm down, and provide a way for them to be examined and anesthetized for any needed treatment.”
The building, where the center’s record number of cubs have spent the summer, is outfitted with cameras.
Hence the habit-forming video feed.
The project’s second phase, to be finished this fall on specially permitted U.S. Forest Service land behind the center, will make the big difference for bear cubs.
It’s a a 2-acre complex that will hold three half-acre “wooded classrooms” that will allow cubs and yearling black bears to interact and practice the skills they’ll need in the wild.
All of that is safely tucked inside a 15-foot, double-fenced secure buffer, with triple-door systems and many other design features to eliminate most contact with humans.
“That’s important because, as we say, a fed bear is a dead bear,” said Clark, who said that eliminating most human–bear contact is critical for a successful release of the cubs into the wild.
The inner fences—to keep cubs in—will be 9- to 10-feet tall and equipped with 4-foot plastic panels to prevent climbing “escapes.”
The outer fences—to keep bears and other forest creatures out—will have two strands of barb-less wire and one hot wire.
Each of the three enclosures—which can be used in rotation to allow for brush to regenerate—will also include concrete pools, automatic waterers and “dens” of 4-foot corrugated pipe.
Two towers built between the pens designed for a dozen cubs each will have three levels: storage at the bottom, food dispersal above, and an observation deck and camera housing up top.
Clark said that when there’s a bear sow available to release cubs with, the center may still use that way of getting the young bears back into the wild.
“It’s quicker and definitely cheaper,” he said, noting that the center’s grocery bill has been as much as $200 a day to feed the cubs.
He said that farmers and amateur gardeners have answered the center’s call for donated fruits and vegetables for the growing cubs.
And he said a fundraising effort covered the center’s portion of the cost, helped mightily by $100,000 from a donor who wants to remain anonymous.
But Clark, who founded the center in 1982 to provide quality health care to native wildlife, said the video feeds are a key way to help educate the public on bears.
“Although bears don’t pose a threat to people who handle interactions with them with common sense, the notion that cubs are cute and cuddly pets belies both their strength and wild nature,” he said.
Having a chance to see them grow from tiny and cute to sizeable and strong, via video in a natural habitat, can help to change all that.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415