Two black bear cubs whose mother was shot by an Amherst County homeowner in June are fat, happy and ready for winter at the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro.
The cubs were orphaned when an Amherst County man shot their mother June 5. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the man complained about black bears visiting his bird feeder earlier in the year and officials advised him to remove it, but he left it on his property.
When the bear and her cubs visited again, DGIF said the man told authorities hethought he had used rubber buckshot to scare them away but mistakenly used regular buckshot and killed the mother.
After an investigation, Sgt. Sonny Nipper with DGIF said criminal charges against the man weren’t appropriate in the situation. Intentionally hunting and killing bears is a Class 1 misdemeanor which can result in up to a $3,000 fine, according to Nipper.
Unlawfully feeding bears, usually by way of baiting them or knowingly leaving trash where they’ve foraged, is treated as a Class 4 misdemeanor under Virginia Administrative Code.
Only sustaining minor injuries, the cubs were taken to the center, where they got a checkup from veterinarians and lived in the large mammal enclosure for a couple of months.
At the end of the summer, the bears moved into a half-acre enclosed space in the George Washington National Forest to rough it with nine other cubs, according to Amanda Nicholson, director of outreach for the Wildlife Center.
Staff drop buckets or bags of food into the enclosure for the cubs once a day, and Nicholson said they supplement their diet by foraging for natural sources, too.
“They’re doing well; they’re putting on a ton of weight at this time of year,” she said.
Workers at the Center still minimize contact with the bears to keep them wild, but Nicholson said they monitor the cubs through cameras and have remarked on how “round” they’re getting.
With 11 cubs in the enclosure and four more to join them in the near future, she said it’s been a busy year for bears at the center. The bears will stay there until spring, when staff will pick locations around the state to release them back into the wild.
The center coordinates with DGIF to triangulate where the bears should be released around late April. Those decisions are made based on factors such as existing population density and availability of food sources come spring, according to DGIF Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki, but she said she believes the cubs likely would remain within southern Central Virginia.
The rehabilitated orphan cubs will be released with green ear tags on them, but Sajecki said the only way DGIF keeps tabs on them is when the tag is visible on photos snapped from track cameras. DGIF will get the occasional notification when a hunter harvests one, and she said they’re usually three to four years old, healthy and in good shape.
“They’re thriving out there,” she said.
Sajecki said the female bears DGIF tracks using radio collars are ones the department may end up picking to be foster mothers to young rescue cubs from earlier in the year, as long as the cubs are healthy.
Still, she said people might come across helpless cubs in the winter and early spring that don’t need rescuing. If a mother bear isn’t around, she said it’s likely they’ve been scared from their den and will return later for their cubs. As a rule of thumb, she advised people leave cubs be overnight and always call DGIF before attempting a “rescue” of their own.
More information on bears and what to do with seemingly orphaned animals is on the DGIF website, www.dgif.virginia.gov.