A mother black bear was struck and killed by a car on Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park this week, and her three orphaned cubs are being cared for at Lake Tahoe.
Details of the car-versus-bear incident were not released by Yosemite National Park staff, who posted a photo of the cubs in a cage and a brief description on Instagram and Facebook. It was not clear if the driver of the car was cited for striking the bear.
“Speeding Kills Bears” signs are posted along multiple roads in Yosemite.
The orphaned cubs were captured by park biologists and taken to the nonprofit Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care in South Lake Tahoe.
The mother bear was one of four bears, including two cubs, killed by vehicles in the park this year, according to the park’s website. Last year, 37 were hit by vehicles.
Park public affairs staff did not respond to requests for details.
The little dark brown cubs are definitely triplets, Tom Millham, secretary for Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, said Thursday in a phone interview.
“They have short claws, they’re growing,” Millham said. “Right now they are baby claws. They’re approximately five months old. Definitely, yes, they are triplets. They all have the same mom.”
The two brother bears and one sister bear vary slightly in size and weight, Millham said. The smaller male and the female weigh 8 pounds each and the larger male is 10 pounds.
No one at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has named the three orphan bears, and they do not intend to, Millham said.
“We do not name them and Yosemite does not name them,” Millham said. “We don’t own these guys and we don’t want to indicate any ownership. We just take care of them so they can be released, for what we hope will be long lives in the wild.”
Other youngsters at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care right now include five grey fox babies, Millham said.
“In house right now, we have a bald eagle, five barn owls, 11 great horned owls, two crows, two ravens, 15 raccoons, one bobcat with a fractured vertebrae that’s healed, the three bear cubs, two red-tailed hawks, one coyote, numerous chipmunks and squirrels, and two sparrow hawks,” Millham said.
Other wild species the Lake Tahoe volunteers have cared for include river otters, golden eagles, hawks and deer.
“We can’t take care of mountain lion or elk,” Millham said. “We can handle just about everything else.”
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care formed in 1978 to raise, rehabilitate and release orphaned and injured wildlife, Millham said.
Keeping it wild
Asked how the nonprofit keeps wildlife wild, Millham said, “We have as minimal human contact as possible. We try to get them types of the food they will find in the wild in their natural habitat.”
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has a different setup than the state Fish & Wildlife rehab facility in Rancho Cordova, Millham said.
“We had a bobcat that was rescued from the Butte Fire last year,” Millham said. “They had it at Rancho Cordova first, then we had it. We’re not sure if it was tagged. Fish & Wildlife released it.”
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has pens set up for different species. The pens are made of wood, while the pens at the state’s Rancho Cordova facility are made of chain link fencing, Millham said.
Black bears are the largest wildlife species remaining in Yosemite National Park, according to biologists. Black bear cubs weigh about a half-pound on average when born. An average adult female is about 150 pounds, and adult males average about 250 pounds.
Bears dine mainly on grasses and berries during spring and summer and acorns in the fall. They mate during summer months, and females typically give birth to a litter of one to three cubs during winter hibernation. Cubs normally remain with their mother until 16 to 17 months of age.
The black bear population in Yosemite is estimated at 300 to 500.