If our little two-and-a-half-month-old black bear cub, Finnegan Bear, were still in the wild with his mother she would not begin to wean him for several more months.  As a mother bear teaches her cub to eat the natural foods that are in season and a part of the bear diet, she still allows her cub to nurse, usually through the summer and into fall.  The rich bear milk is vital to the cub’s growth.

However, since Finnegan lost his mother and is being cared for at Appalachian Bear Rescue, it is imperative that the curators keep their contact to an absolute minimum.  Baby bears, like many other baby animals, can become imprinted and attached to their human caretakers.  Since Finnegan needs to be able to return to the wild in a few months, he must be wary of humans.  A few days ago, we shared Curator Coy’s invention, the Cub Feeder.  It is a device that allows Finnegan to nurse without any human contact at all.

Here is Finnegan drinking his formula from the Cub Feeder.

Finnegan

Finnegan drinks his formula from the Cub Feeder.

After filling his tummy, he was able to subdue Chubby Cubby, his stuffed bear companion.  If you didn’t see the video mentioned in our last post, you should check it out.

Finnegan

Finnegan vanquished the toy bear, Chubby Cubby.

Curator Coy knows that it is time for Finnegan to be weaned.  With that goal in mind, he went about creating a “weaning bowl.”  Coy had placed a bowl of formula in the pen, but Finnegan paid no attention, wanting to get his nourishment from the bottle.  So Coy devised this bowl modification:

Weaning bowl

Curator Coy’s weaning bowl for Finnegan.

He drilled a hole in the bottom of the bowl and inserted a nipple, with which Finnegan is very familiar, creating a tight seal.

Weaning bowl

Weaning bowl, ready to be tested.

Sure enough, when Finnegan saw the nipple he tried to use it to get his formula.  Of course nothing came out, but the little cub discovered that the stuff in the bowl was the same as what he was used to.  He licked his lips – that was a start.  Coy is confident that very soon Finnegan will discover that he can lap the formula from the bowl.  He definitely won’t want to give up the bottle, but lapping from a bowl will mean that he can be weaned away from it.  Then he will be able to lap additional soft foods like yogurt and applesauce along with the formula.  When he is lapping and eating soft foods, the curators can move him outside into an enclosure where he can see natural surroundings and hear nature sounds.  This will be the next step on his road to return to the wild.

Eventually, we will see Finnegan in the trees of a Wild Enclosure, although he will never be in a Wild Enclosure with the current yearlings.  Meanwhile, here is a tree full of bears in one of our enclosures.  These yearlings will be returning to the wild very soon.

Yearlings in tree

A “bear tree” in one of the Wild Enclosures.

Watch for news of releases, coming very soon!