Orphaned Bear Cub in Alaska Having Trouble Hibernating

By all accounts, the little black bear spotted near Juneau should be snug in its den, curled up beside its mother and sleeping away the harsh Alaska winter.

Instead, the orphaned cub on Douglas Island is wide awake and scrounging for anything to eat — dog food, bird seed, dead crows.

"He is just a little black fuzzball," said Brenda Greenbank, who's seen the cub and estimates him to be 25 pounds — the size of a small dog. "I just can't see him surviving without a mother to protect him."

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Now humans have stepped in where Mother Nature has failed. A live trap was set Thursday at the beachfront home owned by Greenbank and Gary Rosenberger to try and catch the fuzzball.

The plan is to move the cub to a remote location off the island where it will be introduced to a denning box made of wood and filled with a straw bed.

Grant Hilderbrandt, a regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said if the cub isn't captured, his chances of surviving are poor.

"It's a hard life out there," he said.

The trap was set at Greenbank's home because the bear scored a few meals there. Rosenberger saw the cub for the first time a couple of days before Christmas after returning with deer from a hunting trip.

"He went out to the garage and thought he saw a dog carrying away a front quarter. He followed it a bit and realized it was a tiny bear," Greenbank said.

The next time Rosenberger had a close encounter with the bear was when he was putting meat scraps for gulls and eagles in a tin atop the wood pile.

"The wood pile is just outside the front door. When he reached out to put another handful in there, he just about touched that guy because he had his face buried in that pan," Greenbank said. "The little guy had crawled up on the wood pile and helped himself."

Black bears in southeast Alaska normally go into hibernation in late October or early November, with pregnant sows typically going in first.

No one really knows for sure what triggers the need to hibernate, but it probably has to do with the weather getting colder and food scarcer, Hilderbrandt said.

The orphan probably wasn't in good shape going into the winter because it was without its mother, Hilderbrandt said. That could be one reason why it isn't hibernating.

To lure the cub into the trap, apples and cinnamon are being used, said Neil Barten, area wildlife management biologist on Douglas Island.

"Basically, it smells like Thanksgiving," Barten said.