DEEP: Missing Bear Cub Special Report

What ever happened to that third bear cub?

{Ear-tagged, tranquilized bear cub}
One of the West Hartford bear cubs resting on a tarp after being tranquilized and ear-tagged.

Update on the West Hartford Bears

On October 24, 1999, the DEP was notified that black bear cubs had been spotted in a residential area of West Hartford. It turned out to be a family of bears, a female (sow) with three cubs. The sow and two of her cubs were captured and relocated. The third cub escaped capture. Its location is still a mystery. (See Background Information)

The DEP expended a large amount of effort to capture the third cub but was unsuccessful. For more than a week, large live traps were placed near its last known location. On one night, the captive sow and cubs were moved close to the traps to serve as a possible attractant. After being held for four days, the captive bears were released in the vicinity of Talcott Mountain in Avon; the closest suitable bear habitat to the original capture site. A radio transmitter was attached to the sow so that if the missing cub was captured it could be moved closer to the sow's location. It is doubtful that the cub remained in the residential area where it was last seen because no sightings were ever reported. Chances are it wandered back to a more remote setting. The DEP monitored all reported bear sightings for clues to the cub's location. Without such clues, additional searching would have been inefficient. The cub has a very good chance of surviving the winter even though first year cubs normally den with their mothers.

After releasing the sow and her two cubs, wildlife biologists monitored the female bear's location using radio telemetry.  For the first two days, it remained in the general vicinity of Talcott Mountain. On the third day, biologists could not pick up a signal from the bear. Repeated attempts were made to receive the signal from the ground. After a week of searching from the ground, a plane was chartered to assist in the search. From the air there is a dramatic increase in the range from which a telemetry signal can be detected.

As the plane flew over Talcott Mountain, a faint signal could be heard to the west. After flying west about eleven miles, the signal was pinpointed in a wooded area of New Hartford. In the course of a week, the sow had crossed several major roadways and the Farmington River before settling down in New Hartford. The DEP also started to receive several reports of bears in the same area of New Hartford where the signal had been detected. Most of these reports were of an adult bear with at least one cub raiding bird feeders.

Biologists continued to monitor the bear's location using radio-telemetry. Based on the signal and reported sightings from New Hartford residents, the bear remained in a relatively small one square mile area. No attempt was made to make visual contact with the bear so as not to further stress the bear at a time when it was preparing for hibernation. Starting in mid-December, the telemetry signal consistently emanated from the same location. This indicated that the sow had denned for the winter.

What does the future hold? When the sow and her cubs emerge from hibernation, they will remain together through the spring. Come summer, they usually go their separate ways. The cubs will have to learn to fend for themselves. If the sow is in good health she may breed in June and give birth in her den next winter.


{Two bear cubs in a holding cage}
Two bear cubs in their holding cage while their mother was being inspected by a veterinarian.

Background Information

In October 1999, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was notified about the sighting of two bear cubs in Fernridge Park in West Hartford. When conservation officers arrived, the two cubs were resting nervously in a large white pine tree in the middle of the park. At that time, no one had seen the cubs' mother.   The officers assumed that the sow (female bear) was somewhere close by. Additional assistance was called in because the task of  reuniting the sow with her cubs and getting them all safely back to suitable habitat was going to be complicated.  Close to noon, a search of a nearby swamp spooked the sow into view. A new complication arose; a third cub was in the swamp with the sow.  The sow and the third cub then crossed a stream and disappeared from sight.  DEP staff on the scene, with the help of West Hartford police, fanned out in the neighborhood in the hope of re-spotting these two bears. Meanwhile, a close eye was kept on the two cubs in the pine tree.

By mid-afternoon, the sow was spotted in a nearby patch of woods. Officers and biologists were able to tree the sow, but her third cub bolted into the woods.  Once treed, the sow was darted with an immobilizing drug and then placed into a cage on a specially designed trailer. While some continued to search for the third cub, the sow was brought to the site where the two cubs remained in the pine tree. As nightfall approached, the two cubs were also darted and placed in the cage with their mother. As the immobilizing drugs wore off, the three bears slowly regained their senses. The media and a large crowd that had gathered over the course of the day got a chance to catch a glimpse of the bear family that had disrupted a normally quiet Sunday in West Hartford.

What about that third cub? Nobody had seen it since it ran off into the woods. It was now dark, and chance of spotting this cub was slim. A DEP employee who raises and trains raccoon hounds was called for assistance. It was hoped that one of his dogs could pick up the bear's scent and tree the bear so it could be easily captured. Although the dog was trained for raccoon hunting, it didn't take long for it to pick up the bear cub's scent. The dog followed a trail that circled through a large patch of woods and crossed through several backyards. DEP staff and West Hartford police stationed themselves along the roads that surrounded the woods in case the bear crossed. Normally a bear will climb a tree to escape pursuit from a dog. This is what was hoped would happen. Unfortunately it didn't. The cub came running out of the woods with the coon hound in close pursuit. If the cub wouldn't tree, there would be no hope of safely capturing it that night. The chase was called off to avoid scaring the cub into one of the many nearby busy roadways. It was close to 11 p.m., and the location of the cub was a mystery.

{Ear-tagged, radio-collared bear}
Black bear sow pauses as she exits the cage that was used to hold her and her two cubs.

The sow and the other two cubs were brought to a garage at Penwood State Park where they were fed and cared for. They were held for four days as the DEP and West Hartford Police continued their search for the missing cub. Large cage traps were set up in the woods where the cub was last seen. On one night, the caged sow and cubs were brought back to the woods. Officers spent the night keeping an eye on the bears and the livetraps that were set close by. No luck. It was now four days with no news of the third cub. Had it made its way back to its home range on its own? Was it still hiding out in West Hartford? A decision had to be made. Holding the sow and her two cubs much longer would be unwise.

The decision was made to put a radio-telemetry collar on the sow and release her and the two cubs into the closest suitable bear habitat to West Hartford. Maybe the third cub and the other three would reunite on their own. If not, and the third cub was captured, biologists could locate the sow's telemetry signal and then release the third cub in close proximity to its family. Four days after their capture, the radio-collared sow and her two cubs were released on Talcott Mountain near the Avon/West Hartford border.

Black Bear Fact Sheet