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After Bear Hunt Some Question What Will Happen To Cubs With No Mother

FWC's Flickr account
FWC's Flickr account

After nearly 300 bears died in a Florida hunt this month, some are questioning how many of those bears were mothers and what their death means for the cubs left alone in the woods.

The St. Francis Wildlife Center in North Florida is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned animals.  

Director Theresa Stevenson is caring for lots of squirrels, a few baby raccoons, a baby bobcat, turtles, tortoises, a baby possum big and small birds, and Squirt the crow.

Stevenson says Squirt came to the center after a raccoon attacked his family’s nest, killing his mother and father along with most of his siblings. He fell out of the nest and survived. But Stevenson says he’ll probably never fully recover.

“He had injuries everywhere and then the eyes got cloudy and the feathers didn’t grown up and he’s just a screw up and we love him to death. So we’re going to keep him for education. We’ll put him under our educational permit,” Stevenson says.

St. Francis is one of the top places for orphaned wildlife. But Stevenson says her clinic is limited in what it can take.

“No bears,” Stevenson says.

Stevenson says St. Francis doesn’t have the equipment or authority to take care of bears. For that, she says people should call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

After Florida’s first bear hunt in two decades many are asking what will happen to the baby bears whose mothers were shot. The hunt rules allowed the harvest of both male and female bears, but did stipulate no bears could be shot if cubs were within sight. But mothers often keep their cubs hidden and hunters report seeing several lactating bears at check in sites. How many? The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that information won’t be available until mid-November. But the FWC’s bear expert, Thomas Eason, says those bear cubs should be okay on their own.

“I would point out there’s lots of scientific literature that shows not only can cubs survive on their own without their mothers after 5-and-a-half months, but can do that really well. We set the hunt late in the year so that the cubs would be as old as possible, so they’re 8-to-9-months old,” Eason says.

Eason is referring to a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. But Stevenson says while she admits the FWC is the authority on bears in Florida, she questions the study.

“I disagree. Most baby bears stay with their mothers for at least a couple years,” Stevenson says.

But Stevenson and Eason do agree on one thing. If you find a young bear in the woods who looks abandoned. It’s best not to approach it. Here’s Eason:

“Similar to deer, every year we get people picking up fawns who they say are abandoned and then they bring them in and that’s the absolute worst thing to do.”

The wildlife Commission cut the state’s bear hunt short after hunters culled nearly 300 bears in just two days. And while the over-all number of bears remains below the state-wide target, hunters did surpass some regional numbers. But despite that officials say they feel the hunt went smoothly. The FWC is continuing to compile data about the bears killed. It hopes to use that information to help it fine tune next year’s hunt.