New Mother for Bear Cubs Thanks to Tree Workers and Cold Medicine

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DNR staff puts Vick’s VaporRub on black bear cubs to mask scent so surrogate mother will accept them as her own (Photo: DNR)

LAKE COUNTY, Mich (May 8, 2014) – Three bear cubs have a new surrogate mother after an elaborate effort by the Department of Natural Resources and tree service workers in Northern Michigan.

Katie Keen, a DNR wildlife outreach technician, tells FOX17 the cubs lost their mother after it was hit by a vehicle on U.S. 10 in Lake County during the evening hours between April 26 and April 27.  Keen says the mother likely had the cubs climb a tree near the busy road when she was hit and killed to get them away from any danger.

A witness contacted authorities shortly after the crash happened after seeing the cubs in a tree near the busy roadway.  The timing allowed the DNR to put a plan into motion to help get the cubs the care they need.

Keen says the DNR has electronic tracking collars on several sows (black female bears) throughout Northern Michigan as part of a surrogate mother program that’s been around for a few years.

DNR staff was able to locate a mother in another Northern Michigan County who had two cubs around the same age as the three cubs orphaned after the crash.

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Malcom Vandentoorn (blue sweatshirt) and Ronald Kailing (yellow) climb tree to get orphaned black bear cubs (Photo: DNR)

Keen says Malcolm Vandentoorn of Alpine Tree Service and Ronald Kailing of Trees Inc. assisted DNR staff in getting the orphaned cubs down from the tree.

DNR staff then located the surrogate mother using radio telemetry, waiting for her to put her own cubs up in a tree, a process that took about half a day on April 29.

Keen says the three orphaned cubs were covered in Vicks VapoRub, a common cold medicine, to mask their scent so the surrogate sow would accept them.  The orphaned cubs were then lifted into the same tree as the mother’s other cubs before she returned.

The surrogate mother returned and started licking the Vicks VapoRub off of them, and pretty soon, the orphaned cubs had her scent and the surrogate mother took them under her care.

Keen says it’s a tactic that’s been used several times before.

Keen says the cubs will remain with the surrogate mother through the summer and den with her through the winter.  In the spring, they’ll begin their life on their own.

Keen says the scenario unfolded just as staff had hoped, giving the bear cubs their best chance at survival.

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