Our arrival at the Fortress last Tuesday morning was met with an unexpected surprise: we had once again been visited by bears during the night. Although we suspected the same mother with cubs who had been hanging around previously, we couldn't be sure. A perimiter sweep of the fence line revealed a very large and very fresh bear track in the mud, one perhaps made by the mother. Again, we contacted Phil Mooney, the local Fish and Game biologist, and informed him of the situation. He gave us the go-ahead to try trapping again and if the culprit turned out to be a different bear, then we could radio-collar him as well. We rigged the trap that night and returned the next morning to find the exact same three cubs (numbered 12, 13, and 14), but no sign of the mother.
Following the signal from her collar, Phil and a trooper found her dead body a few miles away but were unable to distinguish a cause of death visually. An investigation is currently underway. Meanwhile, the three cubs are being housed at the Fortress. Phil is lobbying for us to keep them, but we won't get a final word on that until sometime next week. While waiting, we've started trying to socialize them by letting them see us throwing food out to them. Occasionally we have entered the enclosure and allowed them to watch us pouring out dog food. The goal is to help them develop a positive association with us, and it's worked remarkably well thus far. For the first two days, they hid in the bushes when people appeared, but spent the rest of the week playing and sometimes sleeping in plain sight, so we couldn't be more pleased with their progress thus far. The death of the mother has been a pall of sadness hanging over our heads, though. We wish things could have been different for her.
That said, it does raise a mystery. If the mother is dead, what is the explanation for the large bear tracks outside the fence line? Could it be the big male that was after the cubs? If so, did he kill the mother and follow the cubs when they came back to us for safety? We may never know the answers to these questions.