Black Bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary

Dark StarBlack Bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary
Dark Star is one of the most frequently seen males at the sanctuary. He arrives around the first week of July and is one of the last bears to leave for winter hibernation, last year staying until mid September. He has a favorite resting place, under one of our volunteer cabins! Dark Star can be easily identified, by 3 white lines on his chest, one horizontal one under his chin plus two others in a wide V underneath. Each year he mates with several females so if you see any cubs with white blazes they may well be Darkstar's offspring!
Carl is a very distinctive bear. He has several scars on his muzzle, a testament to past battles, and on one flank a fatty cist. Bears are known to suffer from very few diseases and although throughout the season this can often be seen pussing and bleeding, most likely from catching on brambles or branches as he moves through the woods, it never seems to bother him or get any worse. Carl is thus is an excellent example of the resilience and healing abilities of the black bear.
Back in 1999 volunteers were very surprised when they looked up to see a 3-legged bear, who had never before been seen at the Sanctuary. When he first arrived, Schwinn was very wary of other males, tending to stay out of harm's way in the woods. These days however he is frequently seen in the meadow amongst the dominant males, and visitors often delight to see him in his favourite Buddha position on the wood-chip pile. Rather than attack Schwinn, many of the males seem to exert unusual tolerance around him. Schwinn is now 10 and the fact that he has managed to survive all these years with such a severe disability makes him a wonderful testimony to the resilience of the black bear.

Uuno may well lay claim to being the most well-traveled bear at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. He was born in 1983 and as a young male was chosen as a DNR research bear in Grand Rapids, and given a radio collar and ear tag. Telemetry data showed Uuno travelled extensive distances during those first few years, and then in 1987, at the age of 4, he covered an amazing 232 miles, during which time he found the Sanctuary.He has been coming ever since. He has lost his ear tag and collar now but is still easily recognisable as being the bear that always looks sorry for himself!

He is also a brilliant example of the amazing healing powers that winter hibernation can bring. In 2004 he arrived walking on both his front elbows. A winter in the den seemed to cure whatever was ailing him but the next season he broke his front left paw and again had to limp. Once again though the winter sleep was to heal this disability and it was wonderful to see him injury free and walking on all fours this past season. Uuno is now one of our oldest bears at 24 years of age.

Zeke is 8 years old and one of the most playful bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. This past season we all felt sorry for him as he clearly wanted a play-mate but no other bears were really interested. Younger bears frequently play-wrestle with each other - this is not a form of aggression but, as with many animal species, is a way for younger animals to test out their strength in a non-confrontational situation. It also enables animals to practice wrestling for when later in life they may have to do it in an aggressive encounter, for example when challenging other males for breeding rights. Zeke has a huge frame and we suspect he will start challenging for dominance in the next few years.

Along with Burt, Oscar is the most dominant male at the sanctuary. He is a huge black male, 23 years old, and very intolerant of other males. It is often amusing to look up to see Oscar heading in over the creek and watching all the other bears quickly move out of his way. Oscar is a good example of the fact that bears at the VSWS do not rely solely on the food provided by the Sanctuary. Although a presence for much of the season, he often only comes in for 2 or 3 days at a time and then is absent for another 1 or 2 days, foraging completely naturally while he is away.
Biscuit has been coming to the sanctuary since Vince's days. She is now 18. This past season she produced a litter of 3 cubs, one of which had a snow white triangular blaze on his chest. Although all 3 made it through the season, Biscuit was a very careless Mom, often leaving her cubs alone or leading them out into the meadow with many large males around. Visitors were often concerned to see Biscuit wandering nonchalantly through the field with 3 frightened little cubs running behind, with Mom appearing completely unconcerned. She can be easily identified by her large frame and her ears that stick out to the side, a characteristic that she has also passed on to one of her daughters, Mini-Biscuit.

Norma Jean
Female American Black Bears normally produce a litter of cubs every 2 years once they have reached sexual maturity (at about 3-5 years old), however Norma Jean seems to be a little erratic, and does not always produce cubs when expected. This past season however she arrived with 2 cubs, who by the time they left, in early October, had become very bold and playful. At 19 years of age, Norma Jean is one of our oldest females.

Crystal is one of the best Moms around. She is extremely protective of her cubs and frequently bluff charges other bears that get too close to her or her cubs. It worked very well for her this last season though, as she, along with her sister Bryan, both successfully raised a litter of 4 cubs. In years when she doesn't have cubs, Crystal changes in character completely, and is very docile, happily eating near other bears.

Peanut is one of the most popular females at the sanctuary. This past season she arrived with 3 cubs, but sadly lost one. She is a good example of black bear color traits. Although most black bears are indeed black, brown-colored bears are also very common and some can be cinnamon or even white. The brown color phase in American black bears is a recessive trait that occurs less frequently than the black phase. Peanut herself is brown and this past season she had both brown and black cubs. This means that she either mated twice with a black-colored bear who possessed the recessive brown trait, or that the cubs came from different fathers. Both males and females mate with several individuals during the breeding season, so each cub in a litter may have a different father who would contribute his own color gene.
George is a black, 11 year old male. He is a very sheepish bear, and always tries to stay out of harm's way. This is probably a good tactic as before his winter coat grew this year his whole face was covered in scars from past battles. He is the son of Sarah, the Sanctuary's oldest female.
Black bears frequently have blazes on their chests. Most often these are white lines, either in a V, or one half of a V, but occasionally they have a whole triangle, and Patch is a wonderful example of this. He has a beautiful large cream patch on his chest, hence his name. Like Schwinn, Patch can frequently be seen in the Buddha position on the woodchip pile, and is a favorite among visitors.
In the summer of 2000, Elsie came to the Sanctuary with her first litter of two cubs. It is amazing that she became a mother, given her own history. Black bear cubs normally stay with their mother for eighteen months. They are born in the den in the middle of winter, emerge in the spring, spend the summer learning valuable lessons, and share their mother's den for another winter before being dispersed to live on their own. Mortality rates for cubs are as high as 50% when they lose their mother's protection too early. Elsie lost her mother in the fall of 1997, when she was only nine months old. She stayed around the Sanctuary long after the other bears had left, and when she finally disappeared, no one held out much hope of seeing her again. To the surprise and relief of volunteers, she reappeared the next spring and has been a regular visitor ever since! Last season Elsie had a beautiful brown cub that we named Primrose.

Jenny has given birth to several litters through the years. She is an excellent mother and her cubs are the biggest and most robust of those visiting the Sanctuary each season. It is a treat for visitors to see Jenny with her cubs following behind her, as she doesn't hesitate to bring them out in public view. A few years ago one of her cubs sustained a serious injury, but due to her attention and diligent care, he recovered completely. Jenny has a tan patch of fur under her chin and a beautiful, sleek black coat. We jokingly say that she has never had a "bad hair day."
At 7 years old, Nuthatch is one of our youngest mothers. The season before last she had a litter of 3 cubs, one of which was much smaller than the other 2. This is fairly common, as it can be difficult for a mother to find enough food to feed 3 hungry youngsters, and we worried that the smaller one might not make it through the long, cold winter if he didn't put on some more weight. Although Nuthatch stayed late into the season before leaving for winter hibernation, she showed up the following spring with only 2 cubs, by then yearlings, so we suspect that the smallest one did not make it. This coming summer we hope to see Nuthatch with a new litter of cubs.
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