On April 11, a private citizen in Augusta County saw a young Black Bear cub in a tree near a residential area. Following a period of observation, no adult bears were seen in the area. The concerned citizen captured the cub on their own, fed the cub an unknown amount of cow’s milk, and began driving with the bear toward the Wildlife Center for assistance. While en route, the rescuer contacted the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources for further guidance. Based on the setting and circumstance of rescue, DWR biologists assessed that the cub was a suitable candidate for treatment at the Wildlife Center, and it was admitted that same afternoon.
Dr. Jennifer, one of the Center’s veterinary interns, examined the male cub upon arrival. Radiographs were within normal limits, skin scrape samples produced negative results for mites, and a blood sample was drawn for later testing. Weighing in at 2 kg, the young bear appeared to be overall clinically healthy aside from a slightly thin body condition, mild dehydration, and diarrhea. Considering that he may have been orphaned for some time and was fed cow’s milk before being admitted to the Center, Dr. Jennifer suspects the cub’s abnormal bowel movements may be the result of an illness or infection, intestinal imbalance, or an inappropriate diet. The veterinary staff treated the cub with supportive fluid therapy and placed him in a warm, quiet indoor holding area.
For now, the veterinary staff will be closely monitoring and treating his symptoms and providing supportive care. Currently, this cub is too young in age for a diet consisting of solid foods. Instead, the Center's wildlife rehabilitation staff will bottle feed him three times per day using specialized Black Bear formula and offer a small "mush" bowl -- a combination of watered-down formula and soft foods -- with each bottle.
Unless specifically advised to do so by the Wildlife Center or a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, untrained individuals should not attempt to offer food or water to a patient. While the cub’s initial rescuer likely had the best of intentions, such treatment is likely to cause more harm than good. Many wild animals have very sensitive stomachs and require very special diets; baby animals can also easily aspirate, which can lead to pneumonia or death. Furthermore, the unauthorized feeding of bears – intentionally or inadvertently – is illegal in Virginia.
Extreme caution should be used in any circumstance where wild black bears are present or suspected to be present. Even when visibly injured or in distress, black bears should only be captured and restrained by trained wildlife professionals. If you see a bear in need of help, call the Center at (540) 942-9453, or the Department of Wildlife Resource’s toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 1 (855) 571-9003.