It is that time of year when black bear cubs and their mothers begin leaving their winter dens and exploring the landscape in search of available food resources, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).
During this time, bear cubs can become separated from their mothers for short periods of time. In almost all instances, no intervention is necessary and the cubs should be left alone.
When a female bear with cubs perceives a threat, whether due to barking dogs, people in the area, or otherwise, she will often “tree” her cubs. While the cubs are still very small (normally weighing 5-pounds or less) they are adept climbers and will scamper high into the treetops and await guidance from their mother on when it is safe to come back down.
The female will often leave the area, circling back periodically to check for when she feels the area is secure. If you see cubs in a tree and no female in the area, you should leave the area immediately. The female will return (often at night) and call the cubs back down when she feels there is no immediate threat to her or the cubs. Keeping the area free of disturbance (humans and particularly dogs) is critical for the female to be able to return and collect her cubs.
It is not uncommon throughout the spring for black bear cubs and their mother to return to their den, particularly during periods of inclement weather. Outdoor recreationists may come across an occupied den site (either in the winter or early spring) and should always leave the site undisturbed. The female may leave the den if startled by someone approaching the area.
Do not handle or take the cubs from the den area. Leave the area immediately as the female will often return once the perceived threat is gone.
This is also an important reminder to always maintain dogs on a leash when hiking so that they don’t spook a bear from the den, or attempt to pick up the cubs.
Never attempt to handle or capture a black bear cub found on your property. If the cub has a visible injury, is lethargic, or has been seen in the same location for more than 12 hours, contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Wildlife Conflict Helpline, toll-free at 1-855-571-9003 or if after normal business hours your local sheriff’s office.
For more information on black bears in Virginia, please visit the DGIF website and learn how you can do your part to keep bears wild: https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/.