On April 11, 2002, at 8:00 a.m., Wildlife Care Supervisor Art Yerian at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park received a call from a veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A pair of Florida black bear cubs had been abandoned by their mother for four days in the Ocala National Forest. The veterinarian explained that Florida black bear cubs are a threatened species in Florida. Although rare, happening in only 2% of bear cub births, mother bears will sometimes leave the cubs behind. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission asked if the Wildlife Park would be interested in giving the bear cubs a home with the understanding that they were the only facility being offered this opportunity and that the bears would live out their lives at the Wildlife Park.
The Wildlife Care Supervisor told the veterinarian that the Wildlife Park was indeed interested and grateful for the opportunity. Since the cubs had been abandoned for four days, it was uncertain what condition the cubs would be in or even if they would still be alive. After 3 hours of phone calls to obtain the necessary permits, permission was granted and Art Yerian and Dr. Mark Lowe, the Park's veterinarian were on their way to the Ocala National Forest. This was one of the first times that permission had been given to obtain cubs from the wild. Many times when biologists check dens after females have moved on they find that nature has taken its course and the cubs are no longer alive.
The female had a tracking device and the biologist knew that the female had left four days before and was still going in the opposite direction. After a two-hour drive Art and Mark reached the edge of the Ocala National Forest and met with the Commission veterinarian and two State biologists to search of the den with the cubs.
They walked for about 20 minutes after driving down a ten-mile dirt road. In Florida, a Black bear's den isn't what you may picture a traditional bear den to look like. The female finds some underbrush and digs a small body-sized hole, and this is the den. When they found the den, one cub was under some brush and the other one was six feet away in a small clearing. This was truly a lucky day for both the bear cubs and the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
Both cubs were in better shape than expected. They picked up the cubs and started walking to the truck. They gave both cubs fluids to offset any possible dehydration and offered both a bottle of Nurturall, a puppy formula. Then were on the way back to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and their new home.
This is a once in a lifetime experience for the Park! Not much is known about the growth rate of cubs in the wild or in captivity. This opportunity will allow the Park to document the growth rate and behavior of cubs. Since the cubs arrived at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, there has been considerable interest from the public and the media including television, magazine and newspaper coverage. Needless to say, these cubs are adorable, playful and frisky. Unfortunately, for the Florida Black bear, a significant decline in population has resulted in their current status as a "threatened species." They are now in danger of becoming extinct because of extensive habitat loss. Having these bear cubs at a Florida State Park provides a chance to educate hundreds of thousands of people about their plight and the need to protect them in their natural habitat.
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