Although I have yet to see a roaming bear this year, I’ve begun to hear that others have. The first bears I saw in Harlan County, Kentucky was in March 2004. A mother bear had given birth to five cubs. Rumors began to surface about being able to see them at Kingdom Come State Park in Cumberland. When my son came home for Spring Break from the University of Kentucky, we drove up to have a look. Sure enough, right at the edge of twilight, we saw them in the underbrush.
I can’t explain the thrill of it. There are usually anywhere from one to three cubs in a litter. Five was phenomenal. To have bears coming back into the forests of Kentucky on their own and thriving was another thrill.
Bears are amazing creatures. The breeding season is June and July, yet the fertilized eggs to not implant until months later and the number depends on how much body fat the female has been able to accumulate in the green months. The cubs are born in midwinter, blind, helpless, and weighing about as much as a can of soft drink. The mother continues to sleep while the cubs nurse and grow. When she brings them out of the den in March or April, they weigh about five pounds – the weight of a bag of sugar.
The mother bear (known as a sow) is an omnivore. She will eat plants, animals, berries, nuts, fruit, and anything she can find. Black bears live in as many as forty states. Black bears can be dangerous under the right circumstances, but they primarily roam around looking for food.
As the five cubs of our Momma bear at Kingdom Come continued to grow and nurse, she had to spend more and more of her time looking for food. Unfortunately, she learned that trash cans and picnic scraps meant easy food. This gave opportunity for many people to get a glimpse of them in the park, but unfortunately led to the removal of the mother bear and her babies, who learned from her the art of raiding trash cans and getting far too close to human beings.
The bear in the photo above was taken in the Smoky mountains. The other photo is of Momma Bear and her five cubs at Kingdom Come. She was an amazing, gentle mother and I learned a lot about bears and God’s love for all creatures in that summer. I have many, many bear pictures, but nothing could compare to watching that little bear family grow up over the course of one summer and fall.