On Monday, Feb 29, we attempted Foster Den #2.
This den was reported to us by U.S. Forest Service personnel via WDNR. A forester was out marking a timber sale and came across the den. She could hear cubs so we knew this den contained a nursing mom and a potential foster den. However, because this den is not part of any research study, we had no history whatsoever on the sow. If she was a small, first time mom, we would not place cubs with her.
If you read the previous blog regarding fostering bear cubs, you know that how many cubs the potential mom has is the most important information we need. You also read the only way to know for sure is to physically be in the den.
Because this den contained a bear not part of a research study, she would not already be being tranquilized to take measurements or do collar maintenance. We didn’t want to have to tranquilize her only to find out she had too many cubs and we wouldn’t be able to place ours with her.
We put our heads together to figure out a possible way to be able to see how many cubs she may have without having to tranquilize her. If she had too many cubs, we would just go on our merry way. If she only had a couple cubs, then we would tranquilize her, verify cub numbers and place the foster cubs if appropriate.
One of our volunteers, Tim, volunteered the use of his underwater camera he uses for fishing.
Wildlife rehabbers are a MacGyver-type lot so we jumped at the chance to give it a try.
The camera unit consists of a small camera on a 60’ wire cord and a monitor screen. We taped the camera on a telescoping pole like one may use for painting. Tim was cautioned the bear might crush the camera, but he was looking for an excuse to upgrade cameras anyway so the plan was made.
We took care of animals in care, made extra formula, got hot packs and the back-up inverter to keep it warm, loaded up cubs and our team and made the 1.5 hour trip to meet the USFS-WDNR team.
After a short briefing, Mark, Tim and Michelle, the forester who found the den, quietly headed to the den to check out the possibility of sliding a camera inside.
It was a perfect set-up.
Tim prepared the camera to safely go where it has never gone before. Duct tape is a necessary ingredient in any MacGyver tool kit.
Tim operated the camera monitor while Mark carefully slid the camera inside.
They were greeted with a big, black blob. It took five or so minutes to decipher what end of her was what.
Then we waited to see some activity. And waited a little more.
Much as we hated to do it, we had to brush her with the camera to get her to move enough to hope to see cub activity.
And move she did- swatting the annoying camera! Fortunately, she did not break it.
Shortly after the first cub activity was seen from behind her.
Then another come up from under her. For sure three cubs, probably four, but the last one was hard to decipher on the camera monitor.
We had seen enough to not need to pester her any more. Our cubs were making the hour and half ride back with us. Even though the foster attempt was a “failure”, all involved were jubilant we could get this information being minimally invasive to the potential foster mom. No unnecessary tranquilization. No risk to mom or cubs. Definitely risk to camera equipment and some risk to humans, but certainly considered a success from a den investigation standpoint.
Don’t be surprised if this equipment appears on our Amazon Wishlist!
Which brings up a valid point. This type of equipment is becoming more popular and prevalent as electronics improve and prices decrease. We’ve heard of people using their “fish cameras” for many things besides finding fish. Trappers use them to find entrances to beaver lodges to better place their traps, etc.
Going out on your own and doing what we did with this den would be considered harassing wildlife. You would be issued a ticket by the warden. The fine would range from $303.00 – $2152.50.