In New Sharon, 4 bear cubs are being cared for by Dawn Brown, who has been licensed to do so since 1997. Dawn L. Brown

NEW SHARON — When Dawn Brown took over the care of Chub Bub, an orphaned bear cub found in February, she said she didn’t sleep for six weeks.

“He was the size of my hand, had frostbite,” she said Friday, July 31, during an interview at her home. “He didn’t open his eyes for three weeks. He was 1.5 to two weeks old tops when I received him.”

Dawn Brown of New Sharon is seen with Chub Bub, an orphaned bear cub she took in. The cub was about 2 weeks old and the size of her hand when she first started caring for him. Dawn L. Brown

Chub Bub went with Brown so she could care for him while working in a church sanctuary, she said. He had to be fed every hour or so, she added.

Dawn Brown of New Sharon has been licensed to rehabilitate bears since 1997. She is seen feeding Chub Bub, one of her bears, earlier this year. Dawn L. Brown

“It’s not going to affect their behavior when the bears are that tiny, for being around other people to be an issue,” Brown said. “Later, I’m the only one that goes near them. I’m very meticulous about that.”

Brown and her husband own a flooring business but she has always known she wanted to work with bears.

Working first with raccoons, Brown became a licensed bear rehabilitator in 1997.

“I was driven, determined I was going to work with bears,” Brown said. “With such a driven personality, I knew it would be challenging but I never gave up. It was the best thing. I still continue to learn.”

She has cared for 58 bears over the years, Brown said.

“If I got neonatal or small cubs if there had been a den disturbance, anything like that, I typically cared for them a year,” she said. “Lately, I’ve been keeping the bears for 16 to 17 months for disbursement back to the wild. That’s normally when the mother sow in the wild would kick them off.”

Chub Bub, an orphaned bear cub being cared for by Dawn Brown in New Sharon, is seen in March. Dawn L. Brown

By keeping the bears longer, their behavior can be observed, she said.

“If I keep them that long, I can really observe their den behavior as well,” Brown said. “Cubs have been released at an earlier stage of development, at 8-9 months of age. They can do well then if the hard mast (acorns, beechnuts) and soft mast (vegetation, berries), the food sources are plentiful. I’ve had pretty good statistics both ways.”

A biologist or game warden will call Brown if really small yearlings are found, she said.

“These bears do not have enough fat reserves to survive the winter,” Brown said. “I’ve gotten bears at a year old weighing 12 pounds or less.”

Cubs are bottle fed with Esbilac, a milk formula, she said.

“I get anything for neonatal care, will get colostrum,” Brown said. “Electrolytes, immediate care supplements for when they are young.”

“My goal is to have the bears return to the wild,” she said. “They will be tagged and tattooed so I can find them. I prefer that, I kind of want to know those things. Some get collars too, which is really good. I get further information on their movement, if they have cubs. I have seen that a couple of times. That’s really nice.”

When cubs are first brought to Brown, they are kept in a small room with monitors and video cameras. In some instances, such as with Chub Bub, they are kept in the house, Brown said.

“I had to check on him every 1-2 hours. That was a challenge,” she said. “I wouldn’t change it for anything, it was definitely a learning experience. He did very good. He lost a toe, part of an ear to frostbite. He had some on his neck, on his other rear foot. It could have been so much worse than that.”

Chub Bub is now the biggest of the four cubs Brown is raising this year. She first named her bears with patriotic themes. Now, she uses their ‘animality’ (a term she has coined to refer to their personality) to name them.

“Bears are animals not humans,” she said. “Their names fit them.”

They have been moved to a three acre fenced in area of fields and woods. They will later have the run of a five acre area.

Wild strawberries, raspberries and blackberries when ripe are picked by Brown to supplement the vegetation and nuts, later found in the enclosure.

“I give it my all when it comes to that,” she said. “I’ll gather dandelion greens, cut the whole blackberry cane to keep it as natural as possible.”

Bears have instinctive skills in place to den and to forage, Brown said.

“I’m a true believer in that, I’ve witnessed them first hand, recorded it repetitively,” she said. “A natural setting enhances that. They have memory. After they get zapped a few times by the electric fence, I could probably turn it off. They gain a quick respect for it.”

On average, Brown spends about $2,000 on each of the bears.

“My time, you can’t put a price on that,” she said. “I supplement, give them apples, Iams puppy chow. Cedar shavings, straw, blankets.”

To help cover some of those costs, Brown sells photographs of her bears under A Bear’s Second Chance.

“I photograph the very bears I care for and observe,” she said.

Photographs can be seen on her website, www.beartodream.net.

Brown has video recorded thousands of hours of bear activities too.

“I can go back and look at one bear, compare it to another, to understand them better,” she said. “Backing up my data is important to me, it provides facts. It’s a learning experience all around. I never stop learning. With the repetitive behavioral patterns I’ve seen numerous times over the years, bears know how to swim. I didn’t teach them. They all know how to forage.”

When bears taste things in a natural setting, can feed naturally, they are less apt to make a mistake, Brown said.

“They will spit out things,” she said. “They can lose their innate skills if fed a lot of things (not found in the wild).”

When Brown’s bears are released in the wild, biologists typically are involved.

“I’m very efficient with capturing the bears. I have a building to trap them in. I want it as simple as possible,” she said. “When the biologists arrive, I have it all set up for them. They put the bears under anesthesia, tag, tattoo them, check their weight, all that. I have a box that goes into a box in the biologists’ truck.”

“My bears are released in a really good habitat, where the numbers of bears are prevalent, with enough landscape for them to do well,” Brown added. “I prefer them to go to a habitat similar to what I have. It’s what they’re used to.”

There is definitely a bond between Brown and her bears, she said.

“They do know me, know I’m safe because I’ve cared for them,” Brown said. “I know what to do when they get to a certain stage. Even after 20 years, I still say ‘please don’t fall’ when they’re 100 feet up in the tree canopy. “They are so skilled and agile, it’s really incredible.”

Brown is surprised there have been so many issues with nuisance bears this year given the abundance of food sources available.

“The raspberries are fantastic this year,” she said and recommends taking in bird feeders.

Brown understands both sides of the bear hunting/baiting controversy, doesn’t take sides.

“It is some people’s livelihood. It is a method that does keep bear numbers at bay,” she said.

Brown has recently published a children’s book, The Innocent Journey of Orphaned Black Bear Cubs, and hopes to write a book featuring the data she has collected over the years.

“I truly feel blessed to be able to witness my bears first hand. It’s my calling,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God that I was blessed with doing this.”

 

 

 

 

 


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