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Creating home for a cub

Our newest black bear, Murray, arrived almost two years to the date of Little Bear’s arrival. In addition to the same timeline, and circumstances, he came with a lot of the same issues. It took Little Bear over 12 months of behavior plans, medicines, care, and natural bear biology to kick in before she settled in here. Murray’s been on grounds for three months.

During Murray’s first couple weeks here we learned he seemed to really like ice (and water). So we prepared daily ice cubes/treats and gave him larger water troughs.

The story is the same … wildlife officials contacted me about a cub that needed a home. The cub was found abandoned in April and put into a rehab setting with other cubs for more than five months. Then the cubs would be released to the wild in September, and hopefully never seen again. Unfortunately, this cub (like Little Bear two years earlier) could not make it in the wild. He lost weight and was engaging repeatedly with humans on trails. This is not a recipe for safety or success. In fact, it was either find a forever home (like the Museum) or, sadly, be euthanized.

We told the wildlife officials that we’d take the cub. We rapidly prepared for his arrival — both physically and mentally. While physically it was a lot of work — many hours creating a secure, safe, and enriching environment for him, as well as dealing with all permits and transportation needs — mentally was even harder. We knew he would be coming with some issues that would need addressing.

Murray was underweight when he arrived, but immediately started eating and engaging with his surroundings in quarantine.

Black bear cubs are born in the winter, and stay with their mother for about a year and a half before heading out to a life on their own. This formative time is when the cub is cared for, grows, and learns how to fend for itself. (Check out BearWise, where you can learn about black bears and how to responsibly live with them). Murray (like all our other bears) is learning to live a different way.

There is a huge void for Murray without his mother to teach, nurture, care for, reprimand, and model what a bear is supposed to do. However, Gus, our 18-year-old male black bear is stepping in.

“Mama” Gus.

While somewhat confusing, this is consistent for Gus. When Gus arrived on grounds at only six months old, two-year-old Mimi bear “mothered” him. (She’s now 20 and based on her behavior she has no interest in being the one to “raise” Murray). Gus spent time with Yona first, then two years ago with Little, and now, Murray. Gus is the one who sits with Murray, eats with him, wrestles with him, reprimands him, and comes to Murray when he hears the whining or sees the pacing.

Gus, with Little Bear last year.


Gus (left), with Murray.

But even Gus can’t stop himself from getting sleepy for winter resting. This puts Murray in an extra bind. In essence, he’s got no other bears right now. Even Little, now three years old, is spending most of the days sleeping. Murray would benefit from being chased around by her, but that will have to wait a couple months.

Look at what Gus allows Murray to do to him!

All guests are likely to see for a couple months is one bear, and that’s Murray. Pacing near the pools, where guests are, is one of Murray’s activities. He exhibits all sorts of other cub behaviors too. He swims, dives, climbs, runs, rolls, digs, eats grass, and more. He even gets to places the big bears cannot. Thanks to Skinny, Exhibit’s Fabricator extraordinaire, for bringing in his mountain climbing gear so we could keep Murray off a section of the cliff.

Skinny helped to get a new line of electric wire run to keep Murray out of an area that wasn’t the safest for him — or us.

Animal Care staff are training Murray to “recall.” This means he comes when called. And he listens. This is a good sign for positive behavior outcomes. He is learning to present his paws, so we can check their condition, and he easily takes his medicines (to help with his anxiety and stress). Those therapeutic medicines are offered to him on a long spoon, and he’s already learned the important behavior of not chewing on the spoon.

So, when you come visit our bear habitat, have a little patience and empathy. Wish Murray well, and know that he is (and we are) working through life and he will settle in later this year.