Like apples? So do these bear cubs. Listen to their adorable 'sound of contentment'
Black bear cubs interact at the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, N.H. The center is rehabilitating and releasing abandoned, injured, and orphaned black bear cubs.
Imagine this: You are in the New Hampshire woods. In front of you is a huge pile of apples. A group of black bear cubs are busy eating the fruit.
As the boys enjoy their snack, they let out a strange but sociable hum, seemingly in unison.
This is what writer, producer, and conservationist John Fusco experienced at the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, N.H. He recorded a video and posted it on Twitter for others to see and hear the boys too. Look here:
Watching this video raises many questions: What does the sound of the bear cubs mean? What happened to their mothers? And how can such boys be protected?
The Kilham Bear Center has welcomed more than 30 black bear cubs from New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts this year. The number of cubs admitted each year "really depends on the natural food supply," said wildlife rehabilitator and black bear expert Ben Kilham. "There was a drought that year that left mothers looking for food and getting into trouble."
Many black bear cubs lose their mothers when searching for food near human areas. "Up here there is the phrase 'a fed bear is a dead bear' because once they get used to it, it is a danger to the bear," said Fusco. Wildlife departments sometimes kill bears who spend too much time foraging for food near people, said Rae Wynn-Grant, conservationist and large carnivore ecologist.
Right now, these boys don't have to worry about getting hungry. Fusco shot the video after delivering apples to the center. others bring more fruit and acorns to feed the young as they grow.
Judging by the sound the bears make while they eat, they appreciate the snack. "It's a happy sound ... a sound of satisfaction," said Kilham.
This sound is relatively rare, said Wynn-Grant, because bears are usually quiet. "They're obviously in a healthy sanctuary ... it kind of makes sense for them to coo and tell us how great they feel."
The adorable video caught the eye on Twitter and resulted in donations to the Kilham Bear Center, Fusco said. "It increases the love for bears and that drives people to preserve them."
The cubs stay in the center until June, when they are around 18 months old. However, once they are released, it is uncertain how many will survive. "A lot is being hunted," said Kilham. The released cubs survive at least four or five months before the start of the hunting season. "But then many of them survive years after that," he explained.
What threats are black bears exposed to?
Hunting isn't the only reason a mother, a black bear, may not survive to care for her cub. "The greatest threat to black bears, specifically, is humans," said Wynn-Grant. "Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death in the places where I study."
Snowmobilers and cross-country skiers can also harm bears by disrupting their hibernation. “It can really wake them up, scare them, and cause them to leave their cave. And when they leave the cave there is no food around them, it is actually way too cold for them and they can die, ”explained Wynn-Grant. She advises skiers and snowmobilers to avoid off-roading and "stick to pre-established trails and paths as we usually find bears avoiding these areas".
“By nature, bears really want to be away from humans. They're scared of people, ”said Wynn-Grant. "But at the same time they are really, really motivated by the food." She explained that in preparation for hibernation, bears focus on calorie consumption. "All they care about is getting enough calories into their bodies by any means."
This means that people who live in or visit areas with bears need to better hide the smell of food. "The bears are just trying to survive and get into a situation where you have an apple pie on your cabin table [with just one] flimsy screen door, a bear will just walk right in," said Fusco.
Keeping bears food goes beyond hiding obvious food sources. If you throw scraps of food in an outdoor trash can, leave a dog's food bowl on your deck, and let a hose leak in your yard, a bear can approach, Wynn-Grant said. And when camping, it's important to lock away fragrant items like toothpaste and deodorant, as well as groceries. "It's very easy to live with bears," said Kilham. "It is very difficult to train people to live with bears."
What should you do when you see a black bear?
When you are outdoors in a bear populated area, knowing what to do is important. Firstly, if you come across one, don't panic. "Black bears in particular will never attack you unless they feel super provoked, unless they feel like it is a life and death situation for them," said Wynn-Grant. "All you have to do is go back slowly." And don't come between a mother bear and her cub. You can also make loud noises to scare it off, but do so while you retreat, she said. “[Black bears] have limited energy. Getting into a fight takes them so much physical energy that they would really prefer not to. "
One final tip: even though Fusco does make contact with one of the cubs in the video he shot, you should never approach a bear in the wild, no matter how cute. "Don't try this at home," said Fusco.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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