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Center’s youngest residents developing quickly

Posted by scott.weybright | June 12, 2018

At the Bear Center, they’re still called ‘the cubs’. But physiologically, they’re more like teenagers or young adults.

A bear cub is sprawled out on top of a block of ice, with belly against the ice and all four limbs dangling off the sides.
One of the cubs cools off in the summer of 2015.

The four youngest grizzly bears at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center are now three and a half years old. They were born at the Center in 2015, and many cute photos were taken.

But now they’re reaching physical and sexual maturity, and they’re much bigger and more powerful than in past years.

“They’re still great to be around, but they’re so big and strong now that it’s not safe to be in with them anymore,” said Center manager Brandon Hutzenbiler.

The two male ‘cubs’ weigh between 300 to 350 pounds, about the same as the adult female grizzlies at the Center. The female youths weigh around 230 pounds.

In comparison, the adult males weigh 550 to 600 pounds at this time of year. The bears haven’t started eating voraciously to prepare for hibernation yet.

The young bears are considered physically mature, but may be socially immature, said Lynne Nelson, a professor in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Brandon holds a bottle for a bear cub as the cub drinks milk from it.
Brandon Hutzenbiler with bear cubs in 2015.

“In the wild, they would have separated from their mothers and be surviving on their own,” Nelson said. “Young bears in the wild are often more confident than they should be, so they make mistakes. They can get in trouble, similar to human teenagers.”

Bears have a complex social structure in the wild, she said. If food is plentiful, they congregate and even cooperate when collecting it. But since young bears haven’t experienced this social structure, they can occasionally make mistakes when introduced to new animals or larger groups.

Those mistakes could include misreading the body language of older adults, causing conflicts with territorial males or protective mothers with cubs.