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Into the wild: Wildlife Center of Virginia celebrates release of five young bear cubs

Five young bear cubs who have been patients since April 2023 were released last month by the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Courtesy of WCV.

Spring at the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro brings lots of new patients in the form of baby animals, but is also a time to celebrate the release of young bears back to the wild.

In early April, the Center released five of its long-term patients, five young Black Bears, three of whom came as patients in April 2023, one in June 2023 and a fifth in July 2023. The small cubs were bottle-fed by Center staff until they transitioned to soft mush bowls and then adult bear diets. The young bears have lived in the Center’s Bear Complex since August 2023 and acquired the skills necessary for life in the wild.

The first of the cubs admitted was on April 8, 2023 weighing only 2.2 kgs, less than five pounds. When released last month, the Center estimates the bears weighed nearly 100 pounds.

Only through financial support from the community was the Center able to care for the young bears and give them a second chance at life in the wild.

Before releasing last year’s cubs, the first cubs of 2024 were admitted to the Center. On March 15, Black Bear cub #24-0302 was admitted because his den was close to an active brush fire that startled the mother into fleeing the area. Firefighters who were battling the blaze heard the cub’s cries and were able to rescue him before he was injured. The ongoing fire convinced wildlife biologists with the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) that it was not safe to attempt to reunite the cub with his mother.

On admission, the cub — a male weighing 2.54 kg — was quiet but alert. An exam did not reveal any injuries, and the Center’s rehabilitation team began their first bottle-feeding for the cub.

Less than two weeks later, on March 27, 2024, the Center admitted Black Bear cub #24-0385. A bear den in Scott County was disturbed, flushing a sow and four other cubs, leaving one young male behind.  DWR was not able to reunite this cub with his mother, and he was delivered to the Wildlife Center for care.

The rehabilitation and veterinary teams examined the cub when he arrived, and found him to be dehydrated and thin, but otherwise in good condition.  He weighed 2.03 kg.

By early April, both of the Black Bear cubs had been moved to the Center’s outdoor Large Mammal Enclosure and introduced to each other. They immediately started playing together. After a few days of supervised playtime, they became permanent roommates and have been getting along very well.

“There is always a bear that prefers to be bottle-fed, and cub #24-0302 is bottle-crazed! Since the other cub is eating solid foods very well, we are hoping that one will encourage the other to eat more solid foods and transition away from bottle-feeding. Both cubs love to wrestle with stuffed animals and each other.  We just got a donation of two huge stuffed animals – a sabretooth and orangutan. So far, only the orangutan has been introduced to the cubs, and they’re still deciding if they like him,” said Center bear cub mom Alex.

Later in spring, the two 2024 cubs and additional cubs likely to be admitted will be featured on the Center’s live online Critter Cams.  By August, the cubs will move into a half-acre yard in the Bear Complex as they continue to prepare for life in the wild. You can follow their stories, and others, in the Center’s Critter Corner!

Other Center patients include six Bald Eagles, 30 Woodland Box Turtles, six Eastern Cottontail Rabbits and two Virginia Opossums – a total caseload of approximately 136 animals. The caseload is expected to double in the next three months, with many more wild animals in need and arriving at the Center.

Wildlife Center of Virginia set to celebrate black bear cub birthdays – Augusta Free Press

‘Incredibly vulnerable’: Three orphaned bear cubs under care of Wildlife Center of Virginia – Augusta Free Press

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.