Hibernating Black Bear Extraction

Black Bear Extraction and Relocation, Swanton, MD


Our good friends, Karen and Chris Myer and family own a seasonal home in Swanton, Garrett County, Maryland, near Deep Creek Lake.  Other nearby towns include Grantsville, Accident and McHenry.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) called the Myers to inform them that they had a hibernating black bear living under the deck of their house, and asked permission to extract the bear for safety reasons.  The bear had been radio-collared for the last three years, and the DNR has extensive telemetry information on the animal.


He’s going in to poke the bear!  The bear removal was managed by Harry Spiker, a game mammal specialist for DNR, out of Oakland, MD.  He arrived early in the morning, along with four wildlife specialists and three staff veterinarians.


Maryland Black bears are not true hibernators.  During their winter dormant period though, they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate, but may wake up if disturbed (and yes, bears do poop in the woods, as we observed bear scat surrounding the house).

When winter arrives, black bears spend the season dormant in their dens, and in the case of this bear, living up against the house and under the deck, feeding on body fat they have built-up by eating ravenously all summer and fall.  They normally make their dens in caves, burrows, brush piles or other sheltered spots, sometimes even in tree holes above the ground.  Black bears den for various lengths of time governed by the climate in which they live.


While we watched from inside the house, DNR surrounded the grounds and shot the mother bear under the deck with a tranquilizer mix of ketamine and other knock-out compounds.  We all waited for about 20-minutes to make sure the drugs were effective, and then were allowed to help participate in the critter round-up, and biological work-up.


Female black bears give birth to two or three blind, helpless cubs in mid-winter and nurse them in the den until spring, when all emerge in search of food.  The cubs will stay with their very protective mother for about two years.

The mother bear had three cubs, and Harry handed them out to us, one at a time.


Momma bear had two female and one male cubs, weighing 6.5, 7 and 8-pounds.  They were lethargic, cold and curious.


Harry then placed a large sock over the mother bears face and allowed me to crawl under the deck to see how the bear made her den.  The den was up against two corners of the house frame, and she dug a shallow pit to lay in.  One wall was the fireplace, and the wood floor above included heating rods, so the exterior temperature of the den was slightly warmer than ambient air temperatures.  This bear was no dummy!

We placed ropes on the bears legs and dragged her into the lawn area.


The vet placed each bear into a shopping bag and weighed them, then followed by a battery of measurements, blood work and other documentation.


Each bear received two ear tags and a subcutaneous scanner.


Thermometer in the butt for a temperature reading.


Miss Baby Blue Eyes was peacefully sleeping just an hour ago!


The mother bear was in excellent condition.  Mr. Spiker stated that this bear has a 13-square mile home range and was clocked as having traveled 20-miles in one night during a foraging foray.  Bears are opportunistic omnivores and will feed on just about anything, not dissimilar to my four sons.


This cub, named Cherry, is an orphan and was brought on-site to be placed with this family unit.  The mother of the orphan may have been chased by dogs and was never able to reconnect with her pup, and was subsequently conveyed to DNR for care.


The telemetry collar is good for at least two-years, sometimes three, and a fresh, new collar was installed (bolted).


All during the biological work-up the bear had a pulse/oxygen meter attached to her tongue, so that vitals could be monitored.


Mega canines.  The largest land mammal in Maryland.


It was now time to put her on a litter basket, get her weighed, and placed into the pick-up truck for relocation.


Michelle held one of the cubs to keep him warm for nearly an hour, while all the work was being done.


The bear weighed 288-pounds (nearly as much as I do) last winter, and came in at a robust, end-of-hibernation weight of 323-pounds!  A big, healthy girl.


The bear is being relocated to a nearby State Park, within the bear’s extended home range.  DNR made a ground hut for the bear and cubs, in advance of today’s work.  The way Harry Spiker explained it, is that he will place the bear into the new den, with the cubs and wick on a touch of Vick’s Vapor Rub onto the nose of each animal.  As the mother becomes revived and all the bears smell each other, and with the Vick’s wearing-off, they do not detect any human scent, accept each other, as well as the new orphan.


This bear had one bad dream.  Plucked, prodded and poked, then waking-up to find herself miles away in new “digs.”


Thank you Karen and Chris Myer for including us in a wonderful, once in a lifetime activity.  Thank you MD DNR.  You guys are great.  Michelle and I were thoroughly impressed with your professionalism and willingness to allow us to participate in the extraction and work-up.  Your approach and polite interpretation/education really fosters good-will for our State wild game programs.