Bearing witness: Orphaned black bear cubs
A friend, artist Chantal Dahan, contacted me about her concern about hunting creating orphaned young wildlife. A black bear cub has been taking refuge on her property for more than ten days. She and her partner believe its mother was probably killed by bowhunters.
Black bear cubs need to remain with their mothers for ~18 months. This cub is about 6 months old and will die if left alone.
Ladysmith’s International School for Earth Studies is West Quebec’s only wildlife refuge, operated by Jo Ellen Cushing, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She notes there are 70% more orphaned bear cubs this year—and black bear rifle hunting season hasn’t begun.
The couple thought it would be relatively easy to find a refuge for the cub. However, there are many obstacles both to capturing it and locating a refuge.
Capture & Refuge
Dahan contacted Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, which deal with hunting issues plus wildlife. She asked for a cage to capture the cub, but because of this season’s high demand none are left.
“They offered to come and tranquilize the bear while it’s up the tree, then catch it in a net as it falls. I’m against this practice since the bear cub climbs 100 feet into the trees and would get hurt in a fall. The agents insist on tagging the bear before it is sent to a refuge.”
Cushing explained to me, “As far as the Conservation Officers are concerned, it is mandatory that they tag cubs if they are tranquilized at capture.”
The good news? Chantal contacted Cushing and although their refuge is full, they have agreed to take the bear cub, once it can be captured.
Should female bears be shot?
On Cushing’s website, (bit.ly/2J1FCdY) there is a photo of Koda, a black bear. The caption beside it reads,“One of our bear cubs a few years ago. Hunters can often mistakenly shoot a mother bear, orphaning her cubs. Our wildlife centre was able to rescue and release Koda back to the wild. He is one of many success stories.”
However careful a hunter wants to be, one reason female bears are shot is because it’s impossible to sex a bear before killing it. Genders appear identical and unlike deer or moose, where males have antlers, hunters cannot distinguish gender until the animal is dead.
We can all ponder what we think about shooting wildlife. However, just as I wrote last year about coyotes and their predation of stock such as lambs, farmers are concerned about livestock and crop losses. I’ve been told for years that one reason black bears are shot is because farmers growing corn and soy lose up to 25% of their crops to bears.
One change I’d like to see is for hunters to be required to collect the meat, antlers, hide of animals shot. Can we not create local industry around game meats and products? I enjoy eating wild meats – just like many of you readers. Can we as a society ask hunters to gather hides/pelts/antlers, too? It seems there might be an industry here…
Can hunting laws be changed?
Dahan notes, “The refuges are not funded by the government. Therefore I’m concerned that there are many orphaned wild animals, due to hunting. I believe the government must take responsibility for this predicament. Can it forbid killing females, since they often have young ones to rear? Furthermore, I think the government should impose a tax on hunters’ permits. This money could support wild animal refuges, such as the one at International School for Earth Studies. If refuges had money coming in from the government they could take in more orphans.”
Video by Chantal Dahan: bit.ly/2Et1ujU
Bear With Us information on how black bears tend cubs: bit.ly/2PD93FR)
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer, author and visual artist.