Bear Feature Stories & Photos

Today we have a very special treat for you.  We’ve posted about Curator Coy’s research in connection with his Master’s thesis and as you know, he is following the GPS-collared cubs that were released last year and earlier in 2017.  Jessica, another graduate student, is doing a similar study, but the bears she has collared and is following are bears from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Recently Coy and Jessica went hiking to find dens being used by the study bears.  When they located the den of one of Jessica’s adult female bears, they discovered her with her family – she had given birth to three male cubs!  We are excited to be able to share these photos of the bear family in their den.

The photos had to be taken quickly, as you can imagine.  The sow was given a mild sedative, even though hibernating bears are sleepy and not terribly active.  The cubs, about two months old, were easy to handle, although Coy and Jessica were careful not to spend too much time with them.


Cubs were nestled in with their mother.

Cubs with mom

Is this a yawn or is the cub squalling? Hard to tell.

Cub sticks out tongue

Even at such a young age a bear cub has a long tongue.

17264889_1518914688121118_1497641630315899472_n_03-20_ Jessica-den

The little cub settles back down to snooze.

These cubs and their mother will probably be ready to emerge from their den within the next month.  We hope that they are able to stay together and that there will be plenty of food for them when they come out to explore and learn.

Coy and Jessica are able to track the study bears and share information as they continue to work on their projects.


Coy and Jessica collaborate and share their data.

ABR is proud that These studies are taking place and that our curator is learning so much about the bears that were released.  The information will help researchers and others to understand the movements of these animals.


Appalachian Bear Rescue is still waiting to receive the first orphaned cub of 2017.  We are very happy to wait!  Why?  Because March is much too soon for bear cubs to be out of the den and separated from their mother.  In  March of 2013 we did receive tiny cubs from South Carolina that had been found in a box at the side of a road.  Obviously these cubs were separated from their mother by some type of human interference.  While ABR did care for the cubs and were able to release them successfully at the end of the year, this video shows why such young cubs should not be away from their mom.

In the video these two cubs, nicknamed Bennie and Jerry, are playing .  You will notice that they are very uncoordinated, but by playing they began to strengthen their muscles.  This type of play should have taken place in the den, where tiny cubs practice their physical skills before ever emerging later in the spring.  Click here for a real treat – watching very young bear cubs engaged in play.  You’re sure to get a chuckle from watching!

As we have reported, ABR is without resident cubs and has been cub-less since November, 2016.  During this down time, the curators, volunteers and board members have been working to perform much-needed maintenance tasks and to upgrade various parts of the facility to prepare for the arrival of our first 2017 cub, whenever that may happen.

We’ll take a brief trip down memory lane in this post and look at some of the little yearlings that were in residence one year ago.  You may recall that we had many – over 20, in fact, despite the fact that several had been released earlier.

Tree full

A tree full of yearling bears!


Yearlings climb

Yearlings climbing tree in Wild Enclosure.


Cecilia Bear, looking better, stands on a log den.

Cecilia Bear arrived at ABR in mid-February.  After surgery to remove an abscess, she recovered nicely and was in Wild Enclosure 3 in March.  She was released back onto the wild a month later.  We hope she’s doing well.

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!


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