Bears struggling with poor berry, nut crop
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bears are suffering a harsh year due to the lack of a natural food supply.
Coming off abundant berry and nut crops in 2010, which resulted in sows giving birth to an above-average number of cubs over the winter, the bears have been struggling to find food this year, said Appalachian Bear Rescue Curator Lisa Stewart.
“When they emerged from the dens this spring, the hunt for food began and the summer months did not produce the much-needed soft mast (berries, cherries and other summer fruits) to sustain the adult bears and provide for the weaning cubs,” she said.
Bears have been coming out of the Park since summer in search of food, putting the animals and their offspring in danger of being hit by vehicles.
This has resulted in the Appalachian Bear Rescue at Townsend having 22 cubs at this time, six of which are cubs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They were all born in January.
“We had a pretty poor berry crop,” said Park Public Information Officer Bob Miller. “The blackberries didn’t get it, huckleberries didn’t do well and the cherries were pretty much nonexistent,” Miller said.
“The red oak and white oak acorn crop is poor. This is the predominant fall food source for bears putting on pounds in preparation for hibernation,” he said.
Normally, if a bear finds an oak tree with abundant acorns, it would camp there until all the acorns were gone. That hasn’t happened this year, he said.
“There are a lot of black walnuts, but that is a hard nut to crack. Bears can crack them, but they have to work hard to get to the meat of the nuts. You can hear them crunching down on walnuts from 100 feet away,” Miller said.
The persimmon and blackgum crops are also abundant, as are mountain ash.
“There is a bumper crop of mountain ash berries. I have never heard of bears concentrating on that food source, but up there (at Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome) that is all there is,” he said.
Many underweight cubs
“We’ve admitted many underweight cubs,” Stewart said of the bear center. “Our last two admittances only weighed approximately 15 pounds each.”
“The bears are on the move and in places where they shouldn’t be in their desperate search for food. The bears are suffering many encounters with traffic during their search.
“We have one cub recovering from a concussion he received when he was hit by a car. We know of many more cubs that did not survive encounters with traffic,” she added.
“ABR is having another record year with 22 orphaned cubs and we’re already preparing for next year when we expect to admit many depleted yearlings (as we experienced in 2010) as a result of this year’s inadequate natural food supply,” Stewart said.
In 2009 the bear rescue center had a record 23 cubs. After a poor mast crop that year, in 2010 the bear center had 17 yearlings and one cub that had to be rehabilitated. Stewart is afraid this may happen again next year, due to the poor food supply this year.
The center welcomes contributions to Appalachian Bear Rescue, P.O. Box 364, Townsend, Tn. 37882, or donate through a pay pal account at http://www.facebook.com .