Bear Den

During spring break I got the opportunity to visit a bear den with one of my professors and some of my classmates. We were already excited, but a text from the biologists got us even more excited. Can you come early? my professor shared with us. They finished at another den early and were eager to get started on the next one, so we piled in the vans and sped off as quickly as we dared.

As we drove north through fields and small towns, my fellow students asked our professor questions. None of us had visited a bear den before and we were eager to see what it was like. Two hours later, after winding through towns and fields we neared our destination. Light flitted through the clouds revealing deer and eagles as we turned onto gravel roads. Then, we met the biologists where forest and farms met and the waiting game began.

As a group of biologists headed to the den, one of them walked to our car to give us an idea of what to expect. First, the biologists would find the den and give the bear anesthetics. Then, when the biologists determined it was safe, we could join them at the den. It sounded simple, but after the time it took to get there we were ready to see the den.

They’re taking longer than normal. I heard my professor mutter as the time dragged on. Then, he received a text. Female. Our professor shared with us and our excitement grew. We would not know for sure until we reached the den, but a female significantly increased the probability of cubs. Then, finally, we were given the ok to walk to the den.

Boots squelching in mud, we followed the steps of the biologists to the den. We mostly followed the field, and I wondered why she had made her home along an area touched by humans. Then, we cut into the adjacent woods, and trying not to be too noisy navigating twigs and trees, we found ourselves at a mound.

At first I thought the biologists had made a mistake, there was nothing to indicate that a bear lived here, just a fallen tree that had collected dirt. Then, as I circled the area where the biologists were setting up, I noticed that the “opening” to the group of fallen trees had been dug out more, and I guessed that the den had been dug deeper too. The changes were subtle from the outside, and I marveled at how such a small space could hold such a big animal.

Here's how the opening of the den looked. I was amazed they all fit.

Here’s how the opening of the den looked. I was amazed they all fit.

Then, the moment we had been waiting for: the biologists announced cubs. Eagerly, we walked forward for a chance to glimpse the cubs. Respectfully, we let the youngest there have a chance to hold the cubs first. We weren’t the only group that was there, and a family with three little girls was perfect for three cubs.

As the biologists got set up to collect data on mom, we got a chance to hold the cubs. As we figured out the best ways to keep the cubs warm in our jackets, I was impressed with the care and respect people had for the cubs. Despite never experiencing anything like it before, we all helped each other figure out how to zip up our jackets around the cubs.

Here's how one of the cubs looked being "tucked in."

Here’s how one of the cubs looked being “tucked in.”

Here's the end result when the cub was zipped in. As you can see, he's pretty happy.

Here’s the end result when the cub was zipped in. As you can see, he’s pretty happy.

At first, the cubs were apprehensive, but we watched the biologists quickly collect data from mom the cubs quickly calmed. Like puppies, they sought the comfort of warmth and the security we could provide. Soon, it would be their turn to have measurements done.

The biologists gave the female a heart transmitter and recorded data on a computer.

The biologists gave the female a heart transmitter and recorded data on a computer.

After having their weight taken, their tooth measured, and their color recorded, the cubs were ready to be back with mama. They made their displeasure known by whining which was surprisingly loud for such small bodies. Then, when the last cub was done, they were ready to take the cubs’ mom back to the den. Once she was settled, we handed the cubs to the biologists. After some more last minute photos, the cubs got placed back into the den and we left.

This is my favorite photo of the cubs. I loved having the three of them together.

This is my favorite photo of the cubs. I loved having the three of them together.

Visiting the bear den was an amazing experience, and I am fortunate to go to a school that offers experiences like this. It’s not one I will forget soon, and I was impressed by the care everyone had when handling the bears. After a cold winter, it was really great to be around three tiny reminders of spring.

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