There’s a great chance of running into a black bear in Michigan, especially in the Lower Peninsula. Most black bears in Michigan are found in large, heavily forested areas. But what happens when a black bear cub is displaced from its mother?

First, if you find a bear den while traveling north Michigan, record the location with a GPS and contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After locating a bear den, DNR wildlife biologists will determine whether the animal is a good candidate to join the Surrogate Sow Program. If so, they will fit the bear with a radio tracking device.

The DNR Surrogate Sow Program focuses on pairing motherless cubs with surrogates. “The main objective has always been to have a number of female bears we can use to raise cubs that come into the possession of the DNR,” said Mark Boersen, a DNR wildlife biologist at Roscommon. “You can trick females into taking additional cubs if it’s done right.”

How does the DNR bring together an orphaned cub with its new family? Recently they shared one of the many ways they do it.

  • GPS Collar For The Sow

    Adult females, referred to as sows, have GPS radio collars put on them. The collars allow the DNR to track where they are in Northern Michigan. Most of the time the sows have cubs of their own and will hollow trees or dig holes in the winter for their den.

  • The Sow Gets Removed From The Bear Den

    The sow is then sedated and removed from the den. The DNR said in a post that a sow is part of the program because she’s a good candidate to be an adoptive mom. They also collect biological data from the female bears for research and monitoring trends.

  • Examination For The Sow

    After the sow is sedated, she undergoes a full body examination. During this examination, the sow’s cubs are gathered up in blankets. A lucky DNR officer even gets a chance to cuddle a cub. There aren’t enough fur or fat reserves to keep a cub warm without mom, so cuddles it is. The DNR said that cubs smell “like a wet musky dog.”

  • The Cub Meets Its New Family

    Once the sedative wears off in the sow, the orphaned cub is taken to its location to meet their new family. This cub followed its new family up a tree. To make sure the mom welcomes her new addition, the DNR slathers a scented gel that sticks on the tree. This way all the cubs smell the same and the sow is more likely to care for the orphaned cub.

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