Bear Feature Stories & Photos

A few days ago we posted that ABR received the first bear for 2018, and that we’d post a photo as soon as we could.  Here is the female yearling, ABR bear #267, nicknamed April Bear.  She was hit by a car on the park road that runs between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, called the Spur.

Taken to the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, April was found to have broken ribs and a chipped humerus.  The vets gave her antibiotics and pain medications and sent her to ABR for recovery.  She also has a condition known as alopecia or spot baldness.  The alopecia can be seen in this photo, taken by Curator Coy.


April Bear in her recovery pen.

According to the vets, the alopecia should clear up with good nutrition and rest.  It is likely that the little yearling was having trouble finding good food.  She may have been eating unhealthy foods.  Otherwise her health is good.  She weighed 68 pounds and has a good coat of fur.

Welcome to ABR, April Bear!  We hope you make a speedy recovery.


ABR Head Curator Coy Blair has been hiking into the back country to retrieve dropped collars.  He will tell you that sometimes it is a real challenge, but recently he was helping a classmate and colleague who was also is retrieving collars that she put on bears in her study.  One of the bears she had collared was a large male that had made what Coy described as “The coolest bear den I’ve ever seen.”  Here are some photos of that den.


Coy shows us how challenging it is due to the thick undergrowth.

Much of the undergrowth in the mountains is what locals call “laurel hells” where laurel and rhododendron thickets are almost impossible for humans to get through.


Here is the den, tucked in under tangled branches and roots.


A closer inspection reveals the bed of branches and leaves.

Coy in den

It was large enough for Coy to crawl inside to retrieve the GPS collar.

Some bears, particularly males, are still out and about.  Here is a photo that an ABR volunteer took after she put out her Christmas tree.  A bear came by to check it out.

Bear and tree

The bear didn’t stay long, as there was nothing edible.

Most bears in the Smokies have very likely gone into dens by now.  It’s almost time for the cubs of 2018 to be born, so females are in dens where those cubs will be born.

It’s January.  Bears in the Smokies and throughout the country are in dens.  Mother bears will soon give birth to the cubs of 2018.  Bear cubs are born in the period from mid-January to mid-February.  You may recall that ABR has arbitrarily designated January 22nd as the official birthdate of all cubs and yearlings in our care.

Although there are no bears currently residing at ABR (the three cubs were released on December 4, 2017) Curator Coy is trekking out into the mountains to find dropped collars and to check bear dens.  Here are some photos that he took recently during a collar searching mission.  He was accompanied by a classmate, Jessica, who was on the same mission.  She had collared bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

burned area

Somewhere in this area that was burned in the fires of 2016 is a bear den!


Jessica uses a tracking device to get the signal from one of her collars.


A ground den that Coy found.

tree den

The tree in the center of this image has a den far above the ground.

A tree den like this one would be a likely place for a sow that is going to give birth.  The fact that it is so high is a safety feature – newborn cubs are safe from predators.  Furthermore, there is little to no chance that the den will flood.

Our last post reviewed the ABR lives of our yearlings, Summitt and Dani Bear.  This post will focus on the three cubs – Otto, Rollo and Apollo Bear.  Each of them arrived at a different time, but they all were released on the same date – December 4, 2017.

Otto Bear was the first 2017 cub to be brought to ABR when he was not quite three months old.  He was found out of a den much too soon, and the wildlife officer couldn’t find the den from which he had come.  Therefore, the best place for him to receive help was ABR.

When we receive a very small cub, the curators provide some comfort by placing stuffed animals in the pen for company.


Otto was so small that his stuffed companions were as big as he was!

Next to arrive about three weeks later was Rollo Bear.


Rollo Bear on his way to ABR after his rescue.

At first, since Rollo had lived in the wild with his mother (and possibly siblings) he knew more about being a bear than Otto.  However, because Otto had been receiving a much enriched diet at ABR, the size difference between them was very noticeable.

Rollo and Otto

Otto was much larger than Rollo Bear, but they both liked to eat!

Rollo and Otto

Rollo got into his food, literally!

In August a cub, crossing the highway with his family, was hit by a car.  The cub was rescued and taken to the UT Vet School, where X-rays revealed that he had suffered a broken leg.  The cub was otherwise healthy and of a good weight for a wild cub.  Because this occurred at the time of the solar eclipse the cub was nicknamed Apollo.


Apollo Bear had a broken right front leg.

Because of the break, which had been repaired by means of plates, Apollo had to be confined in a pen with lowered ceiling so he couldn’t climb.  He had to stay quiet for a few weeks.


This image clearly shows where he was shaved for the surgery.


Medication permitted him to get the rest he needed.

Within a month, Apollo was able to join Otto and Rollo Bear in the Wild Enclosure.  They soon bonded and spent the months playing, sleeping, resting and eating together.  They did a lot of eating, as it was hyperphasia time for bears, when they eat tremendous quantities of food in order to prepare for hibernation.  As these pictures show, they grew and “chubbified,” our word for cubs gaining weight.

Rollo and Otto

Rollo and Otto were much bigger now.


Apollo had grown, also.

3 cubs

By late November the cubs spent time in daybeds they created.

3 cubs

The time for their release was approaching.

When they were worked up for release, each cub weighed over 100 pounds!  Rollo Bear, who had started out smaller than either of the others, weighed the most – 104 pounds!  They are out in the wild now, living the lives they were meant to live.  We hope that each of these special cubs has a long and healthy life.

ABR is not likely to receive any cubs until at least the spring of 2018 when mother bears bring their new cubs out of the den to begin their lives.  Although we would like to see every bear family stay together as nature intended, we know that we will likely be called upon to help one or more little bears.  We stand ready to assist as needed.

We are going to review the yearlings and cubs that ABR cared for during 2017.  In today’s post we show the two yearlings when they arrived and how they looked at the time of their release.  And in the next post we’ll do the same thing for the three cubs.  The changes that take place are incredible and we’re sure you will be amazed.

Our first bear of the year was the yearling nicknamed Summitt Bear.  He arrived in early spring, and was so anemic that he required a blood transfusion!  The UT College of Veterinary Medicine, with a donation from one of the Knoxville Zoo bears, performed their first ever black bear blood transfusion and it was very successful.  Within a short time Summitt Bear was out in a Wild Enclosure to gain weight and learn to live like a wild black bear.


Soon after his arrival, Summitt Bear looks small and forlorn in the Acclimation Pen.

After about four months of care, Summitt Bear was big and healthy, ready for release back into the wild!


Summitt thrived in the Wild Enclosure.


He spent a lot of time on his favorite branch in this tree.


Summitt assumed a number of interesting positions as he rested.

The second yearling bear arrived in June.  This was the time of family breakup when mother bears disperse their yearlings to start their lives on their own.  Sometimes the yearlings don’t fare well at first.  This was the case with Dani Bear.


Dani Bear looked small and forlorn in her Acclimation Pen at first.

She was released into the same Wild Enclosure and although the two yearlings never really interacted, they tolerated each other and even shared a tree as this photo shows.

Dani and Summitt

Within a few days Dani joined Summitt in the Wild Enclosure.


Dani Bear also thrived in the Wild Enclosure and became a beautiful, healthy young bear.


There’s that branch again! Dani enjoyed resting there, too.


Here is Dani just prior to her release. She was ready to resume her place in the wild.

As these photos demonstrate, there was great growth and improvement in the two yearlings that resided at ABR for a few months this year.  In our next post we’ll review the three cubs and show how they progressed.

Now that the three cubs have returned to their wild habitat, the curators are finding clues to their behavior and their activities while they were in the Wild Enclosure.  These photos aren’t as interesting as the ones with the cubs, but they give us an idea of what they were doing when they could not be seen.


This stump was attacked by one or more of the cubs.



They did a good job of demolition.

Why would they do this?  Were they finding tasty insects in the stump or were they simply having fun?  We don’t know, but in the wild bears shred logs and stumps, so it is a natural behavior.

day bed and path

Here is one of the day beds they used, and a path created to exit the bed.


There were other paths in different parts of the enclosure.

Since we don’t have cubs in residence, there won’t be as much to report over the winter.  But we’ll try to keep posts coming every few days, even if we have to go back and find photos and stories from earlier in the year or even from years past.  So keep checking!

The three ABR cubs of 2017 have returned to the wild.  We posted the news of their release in a series of 3 posts.  You may recall that Otto, Rollo and Apollo Bear each weighed over 100 pounds!  They weigh a good bit more than any of the cubs that spent the entire year with their mothers, which gives them an advantage as they adjust to finding food in the wild and finding suitable den sites.

Curator Janet shared a chart that shows measurements taken during the workup process.  We can compare the various measurements and see in what ways each cub was larger or smaller than the others.  We find it very interesting, and think you will too.


Comparison of measurements taken at cubs’ workup for release.

We have two photos that were taken just a day or two before release.  These pictures really show how chubby the cubs had become.

Three cubs

The three “Cheery-os” ate and ate to become 100-pounders!

Three cubs

They were fat and healthy.

The curators think it’s possible that the little bears have already found their den sites for the winter, although we can’t know for sure.  We can be sure that they are enjoying their newfound freedom away from fencing of any kind.


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