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Orphaned bear cub rescued in Bristol

A BLACK BEAR cub peers out from the cage where he was trapped Sunday by Game Warden Dale Whitlock. The months-old bear was rescued in the Bristol area earlier to save it after its mother was shot and killed on Memorial Day. Whitlock took the cub to a bear rehabilitation center in New Hampshire. 
Photo courtesy of Julianna Parker

BRISTOL — An orphaned, black bear cub was rescued in the Bristol area after a group of local minors shot and killed the bear’s mother on Memorial Day. 

Vermont Game Warden Dale Whitlock caught the cub this past weekend and took it to the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, N.H. The young bear had been on its own for a little under a week, not straying far from where its mother was killed, Whitlock said.

“It’s a really tragic story,” he said. “The cub had stayed all this time near its dead mother’s body.”

Whitlock was unable to provide specific details regarding his ongoing investigation but told the Independent the incident occurred in Bristol. He said the young men shot the sow while they were out fishing. Taking a bear during outside of hunting season (September through November) is illegal and is the most significant of the charges the minors could face.  

“It’s very rare. Not the orphaned cub part, but it’s very rare that somebody would intentionally kill a sow knowing there’s a cub nearby,” Whitlock said. 

The game warden learned of the incident on Friday and that evening began setting live traps. Whitlock captured the young bear on Sunday morning and took the cub to the New Hampshire rehabilitation center. 

“(The cub) has a really good chance of survival,” Whitlock said. “Even though the cub was so small and dehydrated and hungry, it’s going to be just fine.”

Whitlock noted that capturing the bear was critical.

“It had basically a zero (percent chance of) survivability if we were unable to recover it,” he said. “There are rare occasions when a young bear like that, if it loses its mother (then) a wild sow will adopt it, but it’s very rare.” 

Helena Nicolay, a wildlife rehabilitator who runs North Stream Wildlife Rescue in Monkton, underscored the importance of getting an animal to a rehabilitator once it has lost its mother. 

GAME WARDEN DALE Whitlock rescues a black bear cub in the Bristol area on Sunday. The cub was orphaned on Memorial Day when a group of local juvenile human beings shot and killed the animal’s mother. 
Photo courtesy of Julianna Parker

“Time is of the essence with any orphaned animal, to get it to a rehabilitation center as soon as possible,” she told the Independent. “It’s like going to the doctor. A doctor is trained to take care of what’s usually a medical emergency, and an orphaned animal is a medical emergency, not some cute animal that needs to be cuddled. It needs to be treated like that.”

Nicolay said orphaned animals have a range of specific needs, which wildlife rehabilitators are trained to address.

“Any orphan requires different dietary needs, different temperatures, some have to be placed in an incubator or intubated,” she said. “There’s a whole science behind raising orphaned wildlife, and the fact that it’s separated from its mother is pretty traumatic so there’s a lot of stress involved, there might be diseases involved. A rehabilitator is trained to look and see what’s going on and is able to care for it.”

In addition to caring for orphaned wildlife’s immediate needs, rehabilitation centers also prepare animals for returning to the wild. Nicolay said some mammals, like bears and beavers, might need to stay at a rehabilitation center for a couple of years.   

“In that time, they have to learn to be beavers and they have to learn to be bears. They can’t learn to be people, so it takes a tremendous amount of work for a beaver to think it’s a beaver and when he’s an adult, to actually mate,” Nicolay said. “Especially bears become very habituated to easy food, camping areas, anything. So, it’s very important that they’re raised far away from people and that they eat the natural food.”

Whitlock said the rescued cub will join eight other young, black bears at the Kilham Bear Center. The cubs will stay with rehabilitator Ben Kilham for around a year before returning to the wild. 

When the Independent spoke with Whitlock on Monday, the game warden was still investigating the Memorial Day incident. He said the perpetrators’ motivation for shooting the sow remained unclear. 

The game warden added that he is appreciative of the local school administrators that have played an instrumental role in helping him conduct his investigation. 

Whitlock said the punishment the teenagers could face will depend on how the case is handled by the court system. Since the individuals are minors, the game warden said the case will likely be settled through court diversion. 

“I’m not real certain how it will play out. In cases where I’ve had juveniles do this kind of thing in the past, typically they’ll have a panel that will decide what kind of punishment is appropriate, fines etc.,” Whitlock said. 

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