Orphaned bear cubs get medical checkup

Correction: There are steel sliding doors between the cages for bears being treated at PAWS in Lynnwood. The doors are solid to minimize contact between the animals and humans. The original version of this story reported the wrong type of door.

LYNNWOOD — Anyone who thinks it’s tough trying to get a dog or cat to the vet might try doing it with a bear cub.

The people who run the Progressive Animal Welfare Society are set up to do it, and still it’s not easy, even with very small cubs.

Staff and volunteers at the Lynnwood animal shelter brought three wild black bear cubs under their care into an exam room on Wednesday for checkups.

Staff corralled each cub, one by one, in its cage and threw a blanket over it, and then carried it quickly down a hallway to the exam room. There, groaning and squirming, each cub was given anesthetic by gas to knock it out during the exam.

“They’re cute but they’re a handful,” said Jennifer Convy, director of the PAWS wildlife center.

The cubs, only about 5 months old, were pronounced in good health by PAWS wildlife veterinarian John Huckabee.

One of the cubs, a female, approached hikers near Hoodsport on the Olympic Peninsula early last month. State wildlife officials were called, and when they could not locate the mother, they brought the cub to PAWS on May 14.

The others, brothers, were found later in May near Corvallis, Ore. Their mother was discovered dead alongside a nearby road and is believed to have been hit by a car. The cubs were brought to PAWS on May 24.

The PAWS wildlife center takes in orphaned or injured animals such as bear cubs, raptors, raccoons, harbor seals, weasels, coyotes and even an occasional cougar. The organization also runs a separate shelter for domestic pets.

The wild animals are cared for until they can survive on their own in their natural habitat, then released. If that can’t safely be done, they’re humanely euthanized, PAWS spokeswoman Mary Leake Schilder said.

“Our philosophy is that wild animals are best left in the wild,” she said.

The shelter usually cares for two to four black bear cubs per year, officials said, with some overlap. The shelter released one bear last week and plans to release two more — they’ve grown to about 200 pounds apiece — today.

When ready for release the bears are turned over to state wildlife officials, who take them to areas close to where they were found, Schilder said.

The three new cubs are on a schedule to be released next spring. In the meantime they’re being kept in five interconnecting cages about 15-by-25 feet each, PAWS naturalist Kevin Mack said. The cages are equipped with sliding glass steel doors so staff and volunteers can work in one area while the bears are in another. The wildlife center employs 11 people year round and four seasonally, helped by volunteers.

The three bear cubs were fed a liquid formula at first and then put on a solid food diet consisting of some puppy chow, plus food often eaten by bears in the wild, such as berries, fish and mealworms. Eventually, live fish will be put in water and berries brought in on branches, for example, so the bears learn to obtain it for themselves.

“It’s important they recognize food they have to live on in the wild,” Huckabee said.

The bears are all eating well, staff said. They were anemic when brought in but the exam Wednesday showed an improvement in their blood counts.

The female cub weighed only about 4 pounds when brought in, the males about 5¾ pounds. During Wednesday’s exam, the female weighed in at about 14 pounds and the brothers about 10 each.

The female and the males are all in the same area and are getting along.

“They’re playing well together,” Huckabee said. They’re not playing too rough right now, but probably will as they grow, he said.

The bears are not named. They’re identified by number to keep staff from getting too attached to them — “to make sure they stay wild,” Convy said.

The bears will be fitted with ear tags before release so they can be identified.

While people in some suburban areas have experienced more encounters with bears in recent years, PAWS staff said there hasn’t necessarily been an increase in orphaned cubs recently.

Still, “every year there’s less habitat available for them,” Mack said. “I’m sure it’s a factor.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Bear encounters

State wildlife officials have many tips for minimizing contact with bears and for what to do should an encounter occur. These include:

n Do not feed bears.

n Do not approach any bear — adults or cubs.

n Manage your garbage. At home, keep garbage cans with tight-fitting lids in a shed, garage, or fenced area. Spray garbage cans and dumpsters regularly with disinfectants to reduce odors. Keep fish parts and meat waste in a freezer until they can be disposed of properly. When camping, keep a clean camp. Put food and garbage in wildlife-resistant containers or hang it at least 10 feet from the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk.

n Remove other attractants during the summer, such as bird feeders, pet food and barbecue grills. Promptly harvest orchard fruit from trees.

n Install fences and other barriers.

If you come across a cub that you believe may be injured or orphaned, stay away from it and call PAWS at 425-412-4040. Experts there will know if the animal needs help.

For more information, go to www.wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/bears.htm.

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