Female bears as surrogate moms for orphan cubs proves successful

Since 2016, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) biologists have been radio-collaring adult female bears in Virginia. Data acquired through this project continues to provide insights into the movements, denning habits, and home ranges of wild, female bears in Virginia.

Additionally, these female bears are successfully being used as surrogate mothers for orphaned black bear cubs. There are currently eight adult females fitted with GPS radio-collars primarily in south central counties of Appomattox, Buckingham and Pittsylvania.

GPS radio-collars are linked to satellites that transmit location data to the biologists. Four of these females currently have approximately 10 month old cubs with them and three to four are expected to have cubs this winter.

Using wild female bears as surrogate mothers for orphan cubs has been a successful practice in Virginia. Female bears are excellent mothers and will readily raise orphan cubs.

Each female bear will be visited by DGIF biologists in her winter den, and females who have given birth to cubs will act as surrogate mothers and be given an appropriate number of orphan cubs depending on the surrogate’s condition, age, and the number of natural cubs already present.

The project is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Deployment of the radiocollars will be rotated periodically throughout the state so that no one location or female bear will acquire orphan cubs over an extended period of time.

“Unfortunately, we have lost eight females through hunter harvests, a farmer kill and a suspected poaching event,” says DGIF. “We hope that each of the remaining radio-collared bears and others collared in subsequent years will provide several years of service to the Department’s bear project.

Visit www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear to view information ranging from general bear facts, the Black Bear Management Plan, how-to videos and information on trash can retrofitting and electric fencing, as well as tips for hunters and other useful links.

To report wildlife crime, call 1-800-237-5712.

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