- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An underweight, orphaned Louisiana black bear cub is gaining weight and will soon have a foster mother.

It will happen as soon as the annual survey of radio-collared female bears turns up one with one or two cubs about the same size as this 2-pound, 7-week-old male, said Maria Davidson, head of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ large carnivore program.

“When female bears are in the den they’re just incredibly maternal and nurturing,” Davidson said in a phone interview from northeast Louisiana. If an extra cub can be sneaked in, Davidson said, the mother “gladly accepts it. I’ve seen it a number of times and I’m always amazed by it.”

Louisiana black bears give birth in January and February. The females are generally fat and healthy in March, but this little bear and his mother were both skinny when Davidson checked them on Tuesday and microchipped the cub - a standard procedure.

Concerned about their condition, she returned Wednesday. She didn’t have to go into the den to know that the mother was dead - the collar’s radio signal changes if an animal hasn’t moved for 12 hours. She went in and took out the cub, which weighed only about 1¼ pounds.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Thursday that she got to cuddle the 7-week-old cub at the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Louisiana, the heart of the subspecies’ range. Jewell visited Thursday to announce that Louisiana black bears are off the “threatened” list.

Davidson is sure she’ll find a suitable litter sometime this week.

Once she does, she’s unlikely to know whether the bear survives. She said most cubs do, but a substantial number die. Unless all of the cubs in the foster mother’s litter survive, only DNA or microchip data would tell if this one lived, she said.

In the meantime, she’s happy to see how well he’s doing.

Davidson estimated that the cub weighed 2 pounds Thursday. “He is rebounding much faster than I would have thought,” she said.

He was weak and lethargic when first rescued, and she bottle-fed him every two hours for the first two days. By Thursday afternoon, he was eating and sleeping normally, and she decided to stretch the intervals to 2½ hours.

“I think he was pretty stressed for a while,” she said. “Now that he’s getting regular groceries he doesn’t want to wake as soon. Those 2 a.m. feedings I’m happy to let wait.”


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