two small black bear cubs in the woods

Found an orphan bear cub?

You’re out for a hike and you come across a little bear cub (or two or three) clinging to a tree or huddled on the ground. There’s no mother bear in sight. You know they’re too young to survive on their own.

What should you do?

A. Wrap the cubs in your jacket and take them home.

B. Keep them warm and call your state wildlife agency.

C. Take photos and leave any food you can spare with the cubs.

D. Immediately leave the area. If the cubs are still there and in distress the next morning, call your state wildlife agency.

If you picked D, good for you. We know it’s tough to walk away and leave helpless cubs to fend for themselves.

But bears are great moms. It’s very unlikely the little guys have been abandoned. In fact, there’s an excellent chance mom is nearby, waiting anxiously for you to disappear. The longer you stay, the longer she will be separated from her cubs.

That’s why the very best thing you can do if you come across bear cubs that appear to be abandoned is to take a few seconds to appreciate this very special moment and then immediately leave the area.

Don’t pick up cubs; even little bears have super sharp claws. Don’t touch them or leave them food. And please don’t turn them into real orphans by removing them from their home.

When a mother bear senses danger – when a human or a predator is getting too close to her cubs – she will typically send them up a tree or leave them at the base and then leave the area in an attempt to draw the danger away from her cubs. That’s why bear biologists call these trees “babysitter trees.”

Typically, mom will return to gather up her family when no people or pets are around, usually after dark. As the cubs get older and more mobile, mother bears often leave their cubs to go forage for food (the kids are always hungry) as much as two miles away.

If you believe the cub is truly orphaned, do not touch it. Instead, snap a quick photo, note the location and immediately leave the area. Contact your state wildlife agency for further guidance.

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BearWise® - Developed by bear biologists. Supported by State Wildlife Agencies. Dedicated to helping people live responsibly with black bears.

Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks

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