HARRISBURG (March 27, 2019) – It’s not every day you get to hold a bear cub and live to tell the tale, but state Senator Andy Dinniman recently had the chance to do just that.
Dinniman and fellow members of the Pennsylvania Senate Game and Fisheries Committee joined Pennsylvania Game Commission staff of wildlife conservation professionals as they went den-to-den checking on the health of hibernating mama bears and their cubs at State Gamelands 108 in Cambria County.
Dinniman called the trip an extremely informative and memorable experience.
“To see these animals in their natural habitat was incredible. And to have the opportunity to hold a baby bear, look into their eyes and learn so much about them, gives you a new sense of appreciation for the staff of the game commission and our other wildlife and conservation professionals throughout the Commonwealth,” he said.
Statewide, there are around 75 female bears with radio collars. Game Commission biologists and veterinarians pinpoint the location of bear dens through the radio signal and sedate the mother bears right in the den. They then conduct a health assessment of the bear that includes, taking blood samples, checking their teeth and skin, and adjusting their radio collars as needed to allow room to grow.
The cubs also receive health assessments. Dinniman had the opportunity to hold a young cub but had to do so with care due to its massive, sharp claws.
“The Commonwealth’s bear population is strong and healthy thanks to the hard work and dedication of the game commission and its staff,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s black bear population has been steadily increasing for decades, from around 4,000 in the 1970s to nearly 20,000 today, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Although three species of bears inhabit North America, only the black bear is found in Pennsylvania.
Adult black bears usually weigh around 200 pounds, but males can be as much as 600 pounds or more. They measure about three feet high when on all fours or about five to seven feet tall when standing upright. Despite their intimidating appearance and size, bears are surprisingly agile; they can run up to 35 miles per hour, climb trees and swim well. They may live up to 25 years in the wild, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Black bears are intelligent and curious. Studies show that bears can see colors, recognize human forms, and notice even the slightest movement, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Bears usually rely on their acute sense of smell and, to a lesser degree, hearing, to locate food and danger. Despite their common name, black bears are not always black. They may be cinnamon or, even rarer, blond. Many bears have a white blaze or “V” on their chest.
Bears are usually dormant in winter, remaining in their dens, which can be rock caverns; excavated holes beneath shrubs, trees or deadfalls; in hollow trees; or nests built on the ground. A hibernating bear’s heart rate and breathing slow, and its body temperature drops slightly. During this time, they do not eat, drink or pass body wastes. A hibernating bear relies on stored fat to make it through the winter, however, they may emerge if disturbed.
In Pennsylvania, bears mate primarily from early June to mid-July, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Boars (males) are very aggressive towards each other at this time. Sows (females) give birth in January to litters of one to five. The newborn cubs are blind, toothless, and covered with short, fine hair that seems to inadequately cover their pink skin. Cubs begin nursing immediately after birth and are groomed and cared for daily by the sow. Nurtured with the sow’s rich milk, they grow from as light as 10 ounces at birth to as much as 10 pounds by the time they leave the den in early April.
While Dinniman said he enjoyed the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the bears, he warned the public that this was only done in a controlled situation under the guidance and care of professionals.
“Please, don’t try this at home,” he said. “In the rare instance that you encounter a bear or bear cub, follow the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s advice: alert the bear, get back, stay calm, and pay attention. In most cases, a bear will detect you first and leave the area long before you’ll ever see it.”
The game commission conducts similar health assessments of other animals, including ducks, geese, and elk.
For more information on bears and bear safety tips, as well as a live stream of a bear den in Monroe County, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website, https://www.pgc.pa.gov.