OAKLAND (CBS SF) – The Oakland Zoo welcomed a female black bear and her three cubs this week, a month after the animals were captured by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The mother bear and her cubs came to the zoo under unusual circumstances, as the CDFW has a policy not to place large adult mammals into captivity. However, a unique sequence of events led the bears to what will eventually be life as educational ambassadors at Oakland Zoo’s upcoming California Trail exhibit.
About a month ago on the morning of May 15, the mother bear and cubs broke into a Pine Mountain Club home in Kern County. The elderly resident who lived the home tried to frighten the bears away by banging pots and pans to no avail.
The mother bear charged and swiped at the resident, injuring her left arm. She was treated at a local hospital and is recovering from the incident. During the investigation into the incident, CDFW learned of eight other incidents involving a bear and her three cubs in the same area during the three weeks leading up to the incident where the woman was injured.
All those incidents were believed to involve the same four bears. The incidents were not reported to CDFW, but none of them resulted in human injury. The bears did cause significant property damage to vehicles, garages and homes.
The morning after the encounter that ended in the resident’s injury, the bear and her cubs were safely captured in a culvert trap in Pine Mountain Club set by the CDFW the night before. The bears were transported to a holding facility at the CDFW Investigations Laboratory near Sacramento.
Ordinarily, CDFW public safety policy dictates that a black bear known to have attacked or injured a human is considered a public safety bear and must be euthanized. It was determined that the cubs – which weighed approximately 12-15 pounds each — were not yet weaned from the mother bear.
CDFW decided to hold and monitor all four bears until the cubs were weaned, hoping the cubs could be rehabilitated and eventually returned to their natural habitat. As a known public safety threat, CDFW still planned to euthanized the mother bear per policy.
However as monitoring continued, CDFW staff determined that the bears were habituated to humans and not suitable candidates for release and began to search for an appropriate captive facility for the cubs.
When the Oakland Zoo requested to take the three cubs and the mother bear for their 56-acre California Trail exhibit that is part of a new expansion, CDFW decided not to euthanize.
The focus of the exhibit highlight California’s natural habitat as part of an initiative to emphasize native species and educate the public about human-wildlife issues. In the interest of the cubs’ well-being and outreach opportunity, CDFW supported the unique strategy of placing the sow into captivity.
The exhibit is scheduled to open next summer and is intended to mimic California habitat while educating visitors about the state’s wildlife.
On Tuesday, CDFW completed the unusual transfer of the mother bear and her three cubs was highly unusual. Officials admitted that captivity is far from an ideal outcome for wild bears, but given the mother bear’s dependence on scavenging for human-related food sources, she did not recognize how to search for or rely on natural food sources.
“We are thankful for the unique opportunity Oakland Zoo has provided for these bears, and for the partnership that developed because of it,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian Brandon Munk. “These four bears will have a new facility to call home and a group of people to help care for them.”
Zoo officials were happy with the new addition as well.
“What they say is, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear,'” said Oakland Zoo President and CEO Dr. Joel Parrot. “What it means is if you see that bear and they lose their fear of people, they will get into trouble and will be put to sleep.”
Luckily for the mother bear and her cubs, the Oakland Zoo was in the process of preparing the two-acre black bear exhibit as part of the larger California Trail expansion. The family of four is tailor-made for it.
“Usually it’s very difficult to introduce one bear to other bears when they’re adults, said Parrot. But because they’re all related, they’ve known each other and grew up together, they can all get along for a long time.”
Black Bears can live 30 years in captivity, far longer than in the wild, so the young cubs who are already familiar with humans will become familiar faces to visitors here.