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Survival and conflict behavior of American black bears after rehabilitation

November 6, 2019

Wildlife agencies face difficult situations when orphaned or injured American black bear (Ursus americanus ) cubs (<12 months old) or yearlings (≥12 and <24 months old) are captured. One option is bear rehabilitation, the care and feeding of cubs or yearlings in a semi‐natural environment, followed by release. Unfortunately, the survival and movements of bears released from rehabilitation facilities are often poorly documented and the ultimate reasons for success or failure poorly understood. Our goal was to assess survival and post‐release conflict of orphaned bear cubs and yearlings following release from a rehabilitation facility, Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR), in Townsend, Tennessee, USA, from 2015–2016. We predicted that rehabilitated bears would survive at similar rates, die from similar causes, and engage in similar conflict behavior to wild conspecifics. We equipped 42 black bear cubs and yearlings from ABR with global positioning system‐collars and released them in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee and North Carolina, USA. Estimated annual survival using known‐fate methods for all released bears was 0.93 ± 0.06 [SE]). Survival for 13 bears released as cubs was 0.64 ± 0.14, whereas none of the bears released as yearlings died within 1 year after release (n  = 29). Survival of rehabilitated bears was similar to or higher than published rates for wild conspecifics. Three of 42 bears (7.1%) released from ABR engaged in conflict behavior up to 1 year following release, and those had spent time involved in conflict behavior with their mothers (e.g., approaching humans) prior to being orphaned. Despite not having the typical post‐natal experience with their mothers, the bears in our study appeared to behave and survive similarly to their wild conspecifics. Rehabilitation is effective for managing orphaned or injured bears. Best survival occurred for bears released as yearlings; however, managers can maximize cub survival through fall releases when plentiful wild foods are available. 

Publication Year 2020
Title Survival and conflict behavior of American black bears after rehabilitation
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21783
Authors Coy D Blair, Lisa I Muller, Joseph D. Clark, William H Stiver
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70210925
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center