February 15, 2012BETHLEHEM — New Hampshire Fish and Game wildlife biologist Andy Timmins, who heads the state bear project, and region 1 wildlife biologist Will Staats recently teamed up on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 7, to recover a three-week-old male bear cub that was separated from its mother. When the cub's mother moved her litter to another spot after being disturbed, the sow left one behind.
"The sow had moved two of her three cubs to a new den very close to the original," explained Timmins in an e-mail exchange. "The third cub was lying near the original den and was hypothermic. Its body temperature was very low, and it was lifeless with no heartbeat or breathing that could be detected."
Timmins believes that the sow did not pick up her cub because it was unresponsive. "Nature is a tough place, and animal mothers have to focus on strong offspring," he said. "Some level of cub mortality is the norm. Had the cub been crying like the other two, I'm sure she would have moved it to the new den with the others.
"I have had limited experience with hypothermic cubs but was aware of instances where cubs have recovered once their body temperature was brought back to normal," Timmins said. He immediately placed the cub in his jacket for the walk out to the truck, and once there, he and Staats placed the cub on its heater.
"It took close to an hour, but eventually the cub started to move and vocalize," Timmins said. "I took the cub's temperature about two hours after we picked it up, and it was at 90 degrees F." When not denning, a bear's internal temp is around 100, he explained. "Most of the adult bears that I have handled during winter when denned had temperatures around 90 to 92 degrees. The body temperature of a bear drops during this period of inactivity." The cub weighed approximately 1.5 pounds.
"I took the cub home that night to monitor its progress and to keep in warm," Timmins said. "At about 2:00 a.m. on the next morning, Wednesday, Feb. 8, the cub was doing very well and was very vocal — crying. This indicated to me that the cub was hungry since it had not nursed in nearly 18 hours. At 6:30 a.m., I returned the cub to the sow in her den. I'm confident that she accepted it back, and that it is well."
Asked how often bears are disturbed in their dens, Timmins replied, "Each winter we do have a handful of instances of dens getting disturbed. It is not widespread but, on the other hand, not all that uncommon. Most of the disturbances are the result of logging activity or rabbit hunting, in which beagles find denned bears. Generally it is no big issue, and most people are willing to stay out of the area to let the bear return to its den or recover cubs and move to a new den.
"Sows with newborn cubs have strong fidelity to their young and generally return and-or move the cubs to a new location.
"We try to closely monitor these disturbances when it involves a sow with cubs to ensure that she does return to the cubs. In most instances, giving the family group some space is all that is necessary. The sow does the rest.
"It is important to recognize that the logging crew was very concerned and great to work with! Logging contractor Shawn Ingerson of SDS Logging in Whitefield was more than willing not to work in the immediate area that the den was in," Timmins said.
The den was not what most people typically would think of as serving that purpose.
"The sow was denned in a hitch of wood cut the previous winter that the crew was pulling out this winter," Timmins explained. "Ingerson left two hitches of wood behind in the area so as not to further disturb the sow and her cubs."