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Florida black bear cubs examined for conservation program

Published on: March 29, 2012



Their official names are “160” and “161.” But the words used most frequently to describe them were “too cute.”

They are two 6-pound, male black bear cubs born about eight weeks ago. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists examined the cubs Sunday at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in Clay County.

Biologists Walt McCown and Brian Scheick, along with FWC Chairman Kathy Barco, went to the den to retrieve the cubs. According to McCown, who has been studying bears for 15 years, the female will generally leave the cubs temporarily when humans approach.

“During the time the females are nursing their cubs, they are usually very lethargic and not aware of their surroundings,” McCown said. “However, each bear is an individual, and we have to be ready for anything once we get to the den.”

And being prepared this time was a good idea. This time, Mama Bear didn’t want to cooperate.

“We came up on the den, and she refused to leave,” Scheick said. “We made noise and got extremely close to her before she left her cubs.”

McCown and Barco carried the cubs out to where they could be examined and fitted with their own radio collars. The cubs were also measured, weighed and injected with a microchip.

“The collars are designed to ‘grow’ with the cubs and will eventually fall off in six to eight months,” McCown said. “During this timeframe, we will be able to gather quite a bit of information about their movements with their mother.”

McCown follows a very strict time schedule when dealing with bear cubs, and the animals were returned to their mother within 45 minutes.

“Mom was waiting. She went back to the cubs,” McCown said.

The cubs and their 180-pound mother, “154,” are part of a bear project on the Florida National Guard base, according to McCown. In January, No. 154 gave birth to the two males, the first documented bears born on the base.

The project is gathering data about the bears on Camp Blanding, the 72,000-acre training center between two large bear populations in the Ocala National Forest and the Osceola National Forest. Seven bears have been caught and fitted with radio collars since June 2011.

“We want to see how the bears are using Camp Blanding as a part of the corridor between the two national forests,” McCown said.