2017 Year in Review: Brie Hashem, Wildlife Rehabilitator

It’s time to look back on 2017! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2017 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

The Bear Who Broke the Internet: It was January 23rd, and the rehabilitation team was enjoying the brief lull between baby seasons. After spending five years rehabilitating only birds, my first year rehabilitating mammals was quite a shock. I must admit I had been spoiled by the comparatively brief breeding season of songbirds. The fact that I had to prepare for the arrival of infant squirrels within the next month was a harsh reality. While I was inventorying squirrel formula and feeding supplies, the front desk received an unexpected call: a VDGIF biologist was on her way with a “kitten-sized” bear cub. Rabbit hunters had found the male cub and his female sibling two days earlier and attempts to reunite the cubs with their mother were unsuccessful. Despite intervention from the biologist, the female cub had died. It was imperative that the remaining cub be brought to our care right away.

Patient #17-0073 arrived an hour-and-a-half later and weighed in at a little more than a pound- and-a-half. After a physical examination by the veterinary team and treatment for hypothermia, the rehabilitation team was tasked with the daily care of the cub. My boss, Dr. Kelli, was out of the country teaching a course for the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. It was up to me to determine an appropriate feeding schedule to meet the growing cub’s needs. The next few hours were a blur of allometric food calculators and bottle design trials. With the help of Dr. Ernesto, I determined an appropriate feeding schedule and method and volunteered for the overnight feedings. I suddenly regretted my decision to live in Harrisonburg. Despite the long drive and his ear-piercing screams, there is no baby I would have rather fed at 1:00 AM.

The tiny bear cub quickly became an internet sensation after Amanda placed a camera in his incubator. The world was able to watch him sleep on his back and twitch adorably in real time. The Dodo, a website dedicated to sharing animal-related stories, featured him on their website. With so much interest in the cub, the pressure was on to ensure that he remained healthy while we worked with VDGIF biologists to find him a surrogate sow. Due to the risk of habituation associated with raising a single two- week-old bear cub to release at fourteen months of age, VDGIF biologists worked tirelessly to find a suitable match. On January 25th, I met a VDGIF biologist at 8 AM to pick up the cub for a fostering attempt. The entire WCV staff waited anxiously for a call with an update. Unfortunately, the sow did not come out of her den to accept the cub, and he was returned until another sow could be located. On January 27th, VDGIF biologists located another sow, and this den had easier access for the biologists. A second fostering attempt was scheduled for January 30th. I met VDGIF Black Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki at 8 AM and said goodbye to the cub for what I hoped would be the last time. We received a call that afternoon that the second sow had readily accepted the cub – the fostering attempt was a success! The rehabilitation team was able to breathe a sigh of relief … at least until the squirrels arrived.

--Brie

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!