January 22, 2010

Black Bears

In March of 1991, I had the privilege of visiting (and entering) occupied black bear dens in northeastern Minnesota with a bear researcher named Dr. Lynn Rogers. It was an awesome experience: cross country skiing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, and good ol' fashioned bushwacking through thigh deep snow just to get to the dens. The study bears all had radio collars, and Lynn's assistants had a tracking antena, which is how we knew where they were.

I remember one of the dens being in a small hidden cave in the ground somewhere between Ely and Isabella. Two guys held me by my ankles while I hung awkwardly upside down, wiggling between rocks to get into the den. The bear was called "395" and she had 2 cubs, a male and female, both of which weighed about 3 pounds (cubs are typically born in January and weigh less than a pound at birth). Their front feet were about the size of silver dollars and their claws made them stick to my ragg wool sweater like velcro. We got the cubs out first and put them inside our coats to keep them warm while we wrestled Mama Bear out of the den (she was sedated through this entire process). She was weighed, had blood drawn, had a breast milk sample taken, teeth checked and canines measured, checked to see if she had shed the pads of her feet, changed out her radio collar, etc. The cubs were also weighed, gender and identifying features noted, pictures taken. They bawled at first, sounding almost like human infants. Little pink feet and noses, their eyes were just starting to open (I really need to go find the pictures). Finally, Mama was gently lowered back into her den and her cubs were returned to her.

Dr. Rogers is still doing his black bear research in the Ely area, and this winter his team installed a camera into one of the bear dens. Late this morning, Lily the Black Bear gave birth to her first cub. You can watch it here:

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