Animal Refuge Takes in Orphaned Yosemite Bear Cubs

Mother was fifth bear killed by a car in the park this year.
orphaned bear cubs

The orphaned bear cubs explore their new home. Photo courtesy of Tom Millham.

Three 5-month-old black bear cubs are being cared for at Lake Tahoe Wilderness Care after their mother was struck by a car and killed in Yosemite National Park on the Fourth of July.

Park biologists at Yosemite captured the cubs, and transferred the triplets, one female and two males, to LTWC. The two smaller cubs weighed eight pounds, while the largest, a male, weighed 10 pounds.

For the first week and a half at the refuge, the orphaned cubs mourned by crying for their mother. Usually, cubs stay with their mother for about two years.

“They’ve been with [their mother] for five months, and that’s all they’ve known,” Lake Tahoe Wilderness Secretary Tom Millham said. “All of a sudden mom’s not there, and that’s very traumatic for them.”

A cub that was living alone at the Fund For Animals Wildlife Center in San Diego has also joined the triplets. “It’s always better to raise bear cubs with multiples so they can socialize with each other,” Millham said.

At the LTC, staffers and volunteers care for the cubs by preparing their meals, cleaning their pen, and providing them toys for stimulation.

Watermelon is their favorite food, and they always devour it down to the rind. Staffers also provide the cubs with things they’ll find in the wild, like tree bark, and toys, like balls and tire swings.

“When they get out playing, they’re just a bundle of laughs to watch,” Millham said. The other day, one of the cubs sat in the middle of the hanging tire swing, and another pushed it, so the cub was twirling like a spinning top, according to Millham.

Human contact is limited with the cubs. Staffers don’t speak with them, and they try to avoid eye contact. Within the next two weeks, the cubs will be transferred into a three-room area where staffers can use doors to close off sections, and the bears won’t be able to see them anymore.

The cubs will stay at the refuge until they hibernate and grow (to more than 100 pounds), and they will be released back into Yosemite National Park early next year. Watch them grow on the LTWC’s webcams.

The cub’s mother was the fifth bear to be hit by a vehicle and killed in Yosemite this year. Thirty-seven were hit last year.