Friday, February 24, 2012

Getting to know 'Washington' the bear, a little better...

Last night, when I left off blogging, Washington had just hit the hay (that's still funny...). To be brought up to speed, go back an entry and read: 1st Live Black Bear Encounter in 2012!

After waiting approximately 5 minutes for the tranquilizer to take effect, the bear team gave Washington a poke through a hole in the trap to see if there was a reaction. That bear was out for a hard nap, so they decided it was time to pull him out of the trap!

*Remember: the bear is not hurt, he won't be hurt, and will be released in this location once he is 'processed'.

Once the door of the trap was opened, this is what greeted us. A large, smelly, slumbering bear.
He was MASSIVE and beautiful.

Here the team is maneuvering the bear onto a net, so that they can drag him out onto the ground. At this point, we didn't know the weight of him, but everyone could see he was a big boy. It took most hands on deck to pull him out and get him situated on the space blanket.

With this type of tranquilizer, not sure if this applies to all chemical immobilizations, but the bear is unable to thermo-regulate, or maintain a constant internal temperature. Even in seemingly mild conditions, the animal can succumb to hypo or even hypERthermia. Yesterday it was dry, sunny, and mild (in the 40s*F). Still, we used a space blanket to create a buffer between the ground and the bear.

Fur bearer biologist, Scott Smith checking on the bears condition. The red you see is a sleeve that was placed over the bears face. Another side effect of the tranquilizer is that the bear cannot blink, so to protect against debris and the sunlight, also to perhaps keep him calm mentally, we left in 'in the dark'.

So once the bear is out of the trap, arranged on his left side (to protect internal organs), placed on the space blanket, hooded, and deemed in stable condition, the 'processing' begins. Matt, the Cornell Masters student, and the DEC bear team all collect various biological information, and Matt needed to replace the faulty collar this bear had been wearing.

Before we removed the bear from the net, he was hooked up to a scale to be weighed. It took almost all of us to lift him. Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of the lifting, but the weight of Washington was ~390 pounds. BIG BOY!

There was so much going on at once, everyone had a different part of the bear they were watching and documenting...trying to work fast because animals on tranquilizers are not always predictable, and we had almost a 400 pound male black bear in front of us. Time was of the essence!

I guess I happened to be in the right place and the right time, because I was at the stern end of the bear, and was asked if I would like to take the bears temperature. Of course I said yes, because my goal of attending these types of events is to gain as much experience as possible.

Photo credit: John Van Niel @ Backyard Beasts
 Here I am, getting to know Washington with a smile on my face!
The next picture is a little graphic, so skip over it if you are squeemish.

Here Art, the Sr. Wildlife Biologist on hand, took over so I could snap a picture. I didn't hear what the temperature ended up being, but after a quick internet search, I found that their 'non-denning' temperature is somewhere near 100*F.
*Note: Earlier today, after talking over our experience with the others from my school that I went with, the bears temperature was first taken at 98*F, which is a touch low. Instead of getting worried, the biologists decided to wait 10 minutes and take a reading again. It was 98* again, so apparently THIS bear just runs a little low. If the temp had dropped anymore, they would have maybe covered him with a space blanket, or some other trick I don't know about!

Ron, a wildlife technician for the DEC is checking the heart rate and respiration...Ron could hear the bear issuing an 'odd' noise..which sounded kind of like a murmur or moan that almost drowned out the sound of his heart.

Photo credit: JVN
I took a listen myself, and it was weird...we weren't sure what it was. I don't have alot of experience doing this type of work (I've done this whole experience once before in 2010), so I can't say really "in my experience". BUT this bear was very vocal and whiny while alert, so maybe he had just enough control over the drugs to complain a bit while we were working?

Also, you'll see to the left, the bears foot is snared in a catchpole loop. The person holding the pole is supposed to keep tension on it and watch for movement. This is just a precaution so that the bear doesn't snap out of it and put us and himself in any harm.

Front paw, not sure which side.

Hind left, and my hand for scale.

Matt explaining the tattoo process to co-students of mine, Eric and Andy.

The tattoo usually matches ear tag numbers, in case the ear tags get pulled out, the bear can still be identified. This tattoo was given last year when Washington was first captured.

A quick removal of the sleeve to show Washington's newly fitted collar and ear tag.

The broken collar. You can see broken wires, which is why this bear wasn't giving a good telemetry signal! Also, after a year of wearing the collar, overnight in the trap Washington was able to rip it off somehow. This collar may not look like much, but it's very high tech. It takes GPS recordings and can also be programmed via a cell phone! Does that mean Washington can text me? :)

Photo credit: JVN
Before we were done, it was time for a quick few photos...

Photo credit: JVN 10/2010

 This was from my other experience with a tranquilized male black bear. Notice the size difference!

Photo credit: JVN

Photo credit: Ron Newell
John, Myself, Eric and Andy: Team FLCC

I have one last entry to write about this day's fun, but I think I'll leave that til tomorrow!


  1. Very cool post.

    I am curious about why Washington is awake. Aren't most bears hibernating now in that area?

    He looks like he needs a teeth cleaning :) Can you tell how old he is? I've read that you can tell from the teeth.

    Finally, is that blood in the first photo and a couple of subsequent ones, perhaps from the needle jab? Just curious.

    1. KB- our winter has been INCREDIBLY mild and dry. The DEC biologists thought that W wasn't even truly denning, but using his den (that I'll blog about this weekend) as a day bed, and coming out at night to feed. The bears are alert and moving, which is not good for those of us who are studying them. We need to get to them this winter to change batteries/adjust size of the collars so that they can be monitored over the next year.

      This bear is ~5 years old. When he was first caught in an Aldrich Foot Snare a year ago, Matt took a tooth and sent it in to be aging. A cross section is cut, then just count the rings, like a tree! A year ago, he was aged at 4 years.

      The blood you seee is from the needle jab. They have to use a long and thick needle, with a bit of force behind it, to make it through all that fur, skin, and deep into the muscle to propery administer the drug. It's just a superficial wound, and they put some antibacterial powder on it to aid the healing process.

      Thanks for the questions! Hope you and your girl are feeling well.


Thank you for reading and wishing to leave a comment! Unfortunately, due to a high number of spam comments being left under the "Anonymous" heading, I had to disable that feature. You may still leave a comment with a Gmail account, or under the OpenID option! I welcome comments, suggestions, stories, and tall tales!