In the absence of cubs onsite, we will share with you the recent visit to Lincoln Heights Elementary School in Morristown, TN (Curator Janet Dalton is the principal) during which some of our education team taught the third graders what it takes to be a curator for ABR.  Each child helped with the work up of a “cub” and the formation of a plan for the cub’s care.  The activities were based on the actual procedures followed by Curator Janet and Curator Coy when a cub arrives at ABR.

The children and their teachers thoroughly enjoyed the experience and each child received a certificate designating them as official Junior Bear Curators.

group reports

Each group gave their report to the class.

"UT Vet"

There was a “UT Vet” in each group.

"Wildlife Officer."

One child was the “Wildlife Officer.”


The children had to measure and weigh their cub.


Vet, Wildlife Officer and Junior Curators – each had their own costume.

serious children

They were serious about their jobs.


The children took pride in their work.

Bears eyes

Note that the bears’ eyes were covered, just as at ABR.

Good job

A job well done!


Successful Junior Curators.

There were 80 third grade students who became “Certified Junior Curators” that day.  They were proud, and so were we!

The Wild Enclosures at ABR are designed to be very secure.  Usually, they perform as expected and our furry residents stay safely within their enclosure as they practice being bears.  However, once upon a time there were two sisters who, aided by Mother Nature and a tree that fell during a windstorm, made their escape from Wild Enclosure #4.  Perhaps you remember them.

Brought into ABR after their mother was killed in traffic, Cubs #233 (Cindy Lou) and #234 (Belle) arrived on December 10, 2015.  They were healthy and of satisfactory weights, so after a few hours in an Acclimation Pen they were released into the Wild Enclosure.  They immediately started to explore.


Cindy Lou and her sister Belle explored their enclosure in the early morning.

Within a few days, the sisters were comfortable in their new habitat.  They spent all of their time up in the trees.

Cindy and Belle

Cindy Lou and Belle Bear stayed up in the trees.  They were always close together.

They had been our “guests” for just a month when a windstorm uprooted a tree in their enclosure.  Although the curators thought the two yearlings were sleeping and showing signs of being ready to hibernate, Cindy Lou and Belle were not so sleepy that they didn’t notice the bridge to their freedom.

Tree fell

A tree fell over the fence, creating a bridge for two bears to cross.

There was no trace of them the next day, other than some fur that had caught on the fencing.

Fur caught on fence

A tuft of fur told the curator that the two young bears had made their escape!

Fortunately the healthy youngsters were scheduled for release soon, anyway.  They just didn’t have to go through the release process.  More proof of the intelligence and cleverness of bears!  We hope that they have fared well since they left us.  Since ABR is smack in the middle of bear country we are sure that they are doing just fine!


ABR is in the middle of bear country.

Cindy Lou and Belle could be most anywhere in the surrounding forest and mountains.

Curator Coy is working hard on his Master’s thesis and the research into the habits of ABR cubs who were cared for last year.  You may remember that when they were released they were fitted with GPS collars that permit Coy to view their travels on his computer.  Since  the cubs have denned  he is tracking them to find out where they have settled for the winter and what kinds of dens they have made for themselves.  In this post we are sharing photos that Coy took when he found a couple of the dens.  You’ll notice that there is a bear visible in one of them!

Although many people think that bears den in caves, that is not a usual den site, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  For one thing, there simply aren’t enough caves for all the bears.  Furthermore, a bear needs a space small enough that its body heat will warm it sufficiently.  Caves are too large.

In our area, trees are the most popular den locations.  Sometimes a bear will den in a hollow tree perhaps 50-60 feet above the ground.  Sows that are giving birth often choose these lofty dens as places that provide safety for the newborns.

The dens that Coy found are in trees, although not high up.

den in tree

The red arrow points to the den in this tree in the park.

Here is Greg, former ABR Assistant Curator, who accompanied Coy on the den-finding trek.  Coy must take someone with him when he is going into the backcountry.


Greg stands next to the den in the tree.

Here is a closer look at the den.

bear den

No one was home, but it is obvious that it has been used by a bear.

Here is another den, in the roots of a large tree.  And there is the sleeping bear!

Bear in den

The bear is tucked into a snug den at the base of the tree.

Curator Coy tells us that this is one of the ABR bears.  He just won’t say which one.  If you notice the burned area to the right, that was from the fires that swept through the area in late November.  Coy had tracked the bears that were in the area and noted that they had left before the fire.  But this one came back to find a den after the danger had passed.

What a difference a year makes!  A year ago today we had snow on the ground and many cubs at ABR, spending time in the trees.  Because of the poor mast (acorn) crop in the fall of 2015, many yearlings were starving.  Many of them were rescued and brought to ABR for care.  These little bears were so hungry and malnourished that they weren’t interested in denning but simply continued to eat through the months when they would normally have been in dens.  They did spend their time between snacks up high in the trees, snoozing and resting.  This photo, taken in January 2016 shows some cubs being snowed upon as they rested in the trees.

Cubs in tree

Cubs, snow and trees – January, 2016.

Another photo that shows seven of the eight cubs in one of our Wild Enclosures a year ago.

Cubs high up

Look how high the cubs were in this tree!

This year (2017) we don’t have cubs as yet.  This has given our curators, volunteers and others the opportunity to accomplish some much-needed work in and around the facility.  So as a contrast to the images above, we have a photo of a workman from Ogle’s Tree Service who scaled a dead tree that must be removed for safety’s sake before we have bears.

tree trimmer

Look how high the tree trimmer is!

The red arrows show us the man at the bottom and the one who is as high as the cubs were in the photo from last year.  Of course the humans have to use safety gear to climb this high, while the cubs scamper up a tree with ease.  The next photo zooms in on the man in the tree so we can see him better.

Tree trimmer

Here is the tree trimmer from a closer viewpoint.

That tree is at least 50-60 feet high.  Cubs are not even slightly hesitant to climb that high.  Most of us mere mortals would not wish to do so, even with the safety harness!


As we have reported, ABR is currently empty of cubs.  Since there are no cubs to report about, we have featured a few of the many cubs from 2016.  Today we look back at Hazel Bear (Cub #246) who was one of the starving yearlings from last year.

Hazel Bear was rescued and brought to ABR as a yearling on January 29th, 2016, when she weighed just 12 pounds (the normal weight for a 3-month-old cub just out of the den). Despite her extremely low weight she was relatively healthy and was released into a Wild Enclosure after a couple of weeks.

These photos were taken in February, when she was in the Wild Enclosure.


Like all bear cubs, Hazel Bear liked to climb trees.


Stumps in the Wild Enclosures are popular places to rest.


A portrait of Hazel by ABR photographer Ken LaValley.


Another portrait. Ken does an excellent job of capturing the cubs at their best.

Given her rough start and extremely low weight, you might be surprised to learn that Hazel Bear was released back into the wild on April 13th, not quite three months later.  She weighed 40 pounds, and with soft mast soon to be available that was sufficient weight.  No doubt she is currently in a den and will not emerge for another couple of months.

Today we have a real treat for you.  Since 2016 was the twentieth anniversary of ABR, we have a beautiful slideshow that shows almost all of the bear cubs that have come to ABR for care during our history.  We know you will enjoy it.  Click here to see the YouTube video of our ABR slideshow.

As you know, we are now in a cub-less period, as last year’s cubs have left us and the cubs of 2017 will be born within the next month.  We don’t expect to receive any needy cubs until March or April at the earliest. Since we can’t see photos of resident cubs, we can enjoy these images of the many cubs who have been cared for in past years.

We know – it’s been a while since we posted to this blog.  ABR still is void of bears and this is a very good thing.  It means the wild bears (including the ones we released last year) are getting along all right.  By now, even bears here in the southern part of the Appalachian mountains, are likely settled in their dens.  We’re quite sure that the yearlings released in 2016 have found dens for themselves.

We thought we’d remind you of some of the yearlings that ABR was caring for last year in January.  There were many.  We have chosen to feature four of them in this post.

Bear #230, nicknamed Acorn, had been admitted in late November at the age of 10 months.  She had a leg wound and spent a few days in The Cub House before being released into the Wild Enclosure.  When Acorn was released back into the wild in April 2016 she weighed 69.5 pounds, having more than doubled her weight while at ABR!


Acorn Bear in a tree in her Wild Enclosure in January 2016.

Bear #232, nicknamed Herbie Bear, was admitted in December 2015.  He was one of the earliest malnourished cubs, weighing much less than an eleven-month-old cub should weigh.  As the season wore on, we were admitting smaller and smaller yearling bears and the full impact of the mast failure became clear.  Herbie was able to go directly into an Acclimation Pen, then into the Wild Enclosure, and was released back into the wild in late February 2016.


January 2016 – Herbie Bear in the Wild Enclosure.

Bear #235 (Zellie Bear) was rescued just before Christmas 2015.  She was very underweight at just 10.6 pounds.  Zellie spent five days in The Cub House to start gaining weight under the watchful eyes of our curators.  In early January she was released into a Wild Enclosure where she thrived.  Zellie Bear was released back into the wild in April, weighing 60 pounds!


Zellie climbed a tree immediately on her release into the Wild Enclosure.

Bear #239, nicknamed Snowflake Bear, arrived on January 8, 2016 weighing just 8.5 pounds.  As a yearling, she weighed what a normal three-month-old cub might weigh.  Because of her fragile state she was housed in the Cub Nursery for a few days so she could be fed every 3-4 hours around the clock.  When she was stronger she was moved into an Acclimation Pen and within two weeks from her arrival she was out in the Wild Enclosure.  Snowflake Bear weighed 54 pounds when she was released into the wild in April.


Tiny Snowflake Bear gained strength in the Acclimation Pen in January 2016.

We are grateful that the mast crops were bountiful this year.  We actually received more acorn donations than we could use, and were glad to share some of them with the Knoxville Zoo.

Volunteers and Board members have helped the curators with projects to have the facility ready to accept needy cubs that may come our way in the spring.