NORWAY — A mere 30-pound orphaned male bear cub that kept appearing in the backyard of John McCormack's home in Norway in December was rescued by game wardens and given a new, temporary home.
"I got up one morning about four o'clock, I turned the coffee maker on ... and I see a little black thing out there," said McCormack, who lives on Huntington Avenue.
He said at first he thought, "'Oh, it must just be a porcupine.' Then I got thinking, 'it looks awful big for a porcupine.'"
"I have deer in my yard all the time," McCormack said, "and raccoons, and ... a couple of skunks. Of course, I got bird feeders in the backyard."
So, on Dec. 15, McCormack said, he went out to his garage, which he estimates to be about 50 feet from his bird feeders, turned on the light and discovered a little bear, sitting beneath the feeders.
"I watched him," McCormack said. "Maybe about 10 o'clock in the morning, he was (still) out back."
"I think it was for three or four days, he was coming in (to the backyard) three or four times a day," McCormack said.
Since bears hibernate in the winter and the cub was roaming alone, he said he wondered where its mother was.
"It's getting into the freezing season here, and ordinarily, they are in bed by now," he said
Over the next few days, McCormack kept careful watch of his backyard to see if the cub's mother would appear.
"I saw tracks, but I still (saw) no other bear. ... so I called the game warden. They said if the bear keeps coming in (the yard), they would check it out," he said.
The bear cub did.
On Dec. 20, wardens brought in a 2- by 4-foot Havahart® animal trap with apples inside to lure in the cub, but there was no sight of it, at least for 24 hours. About 7 p.m. the next day, McCormack said, "We caught him. The poor little thing was in there, not making a whimper or anything."
According to McCormack, the cub, now a year old, was taken to Second Chance Wildlife, Inc., a bear rehabilitation center in New Sharon.
"They rehabilitate animals," he said, including moose and deer. Second Chance owners Dawn and Michael Brown strive to create the most natural habitat for all the bears and focus on returning them to the wild as quickly as possible.
"They try to get them ready for hibernation," McCormack said.
Second Chance is run entirely by volunteers.
According to McCormack, the Browns named the cub "Norway." Each bear brought to Second Chance, a 3-acre facility, is named after the town in which they were captured.
"He's doing really well," Dawn said of Norway. The cub has gained about 14 pounds since he was dropped off at the facility. Considering yearlings can weigh up to 60 pounds, Norway is still pretty small.
Dawn, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, is currently taking care of four other male yearlings.
Though she prefers feeding the cubs natural food, Norway had to be fed supplements to bulk him up and nurse him back to good health. "He's packing on some pounds," she said.
Dawn said she releases the bears back into their natural habitat depending on their stages of development. "It really depends on different scenarios ... whether they are bottle babies, or if I get them at an older age.
"The most important factor of all is (actually) seeing if my methods are working," she said. She explained that each bear wears a camera collar, so its movements can be captured once it's released into its natural habitat. "I document everything," she said.
According to Dawn, she would prefer Second Chance to be a last resort for the bears. Unless a bear appears to be extremely underweight or unhealthy, she recommends that it be left alone.
"The only reason a warden will bring me a bear is if it's been showing up (on a property) for a while and that they know ... it has been separated from the mother," she explained.
The mother bear could have been killed by hunters, but in many cases, mother and cub will separate naturally, according to Dawn.
She estimates Norway, along with the other yearlings, will be in good condition to be released into the wild this spring.
"The bottom line is keeping them wild, so when they return to the wild ... they are behaving as bears," Dawn said.
McCormack said that at one point, the cub was sitting just 4 feet away from him.
"I was looking at this poor, innocent thing, and it was almost like he was looking at (me), thinking, 'What did I do wrong?'" McCormack explained.
"It was funny, because he was sniffing me ... so I put my hand down to the cage ... and all of a sudden, he swiped at my hand."
According to Dawn, this is "very normal bear behavior, which is good."
McCormack was surprised to learn that the cub's paw was about half the size of an average human fist and its claws were about an inch-and-a-quarter long.
"It's amazing to be that close to a little wild animal," McCormack said. "It's something I'll never forget."
For more information on Norway or other bears at the facility, or to donate, visit www.beartodream.org.