HomeOutdoorsNewsMalnourished Bear Cub Rescued from Dumpster Needs ‘Significant’ Recovery

Malnourished Bear Cub Rescued from Dumpster Needs ‘Significant’ Recovery

by Jon D. B.
black bear cub rescue
TK Bear rescue, black bear cub. (Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Named after the dish soap rescuers used to clean him up, Dawn the New Mexico bear cub has a long road to recovery.

The yearling black bear, discovered “on the verge of death” as Taos News reports, was likely attempting to find food in an urban Red River, NM dumpster. Unable to sustain himself – or escape – the little one began starving to death. He was found and rescued just in time.

When the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish picked up Dawn, he couldn’t even open his mouth or chew. The bear cub was in need of intensive expert care. Which is where Dr. Kathleen Ramsey, founder of Cottonwood Rehab outside Española, comes in.

“My assumption is that he is actually another fire cub,” Ramsey tells Taos News. “Mom can run and the baby can’t run to keep up. And the mom’s only thought is to stay alive and the baby’s get left behind. I’m guessing that’s what happened to this cub.”

Dr. Ramsey believes Dawn was separated from his mother during recent wildfires roughly 30 miles south of Red River where he was found. When he arrived at Cottonwood, he weighed just 11 pounds. This is 1/10 of the weight a New Mexico black bear cub should be at his age, Ramsey cites.

Mother black bears not only nurse their young for over half a year, but teach them to forage for over a year, too. Without mom’s guidance, yearlings of this age face malnourishment and eventual death by starvation. An orphaned bear cub’s only hope for survival is to be discovered by humanity, rehabilitated in a proper rescue, then returned to the wild.

‘Mom nurses this bear for 6-9 months and stays and sleeps with that cub throughout that first winter’

Dawn is one of many bears the good doctor, a veterinarian with decades of experience under her belt, has saved. Black bears may not be the first animal we think of when someone says New Mexico. But to residents of the state, it’s been their official state animal since 1963. And in the 40 years of running Cottonwood Rehab, Ramsey has treated 700 bears.

In a typical life for Dawn, “Mom nurses this bear for 6-9 months and stays and sleeps with that cub throughout that first winter,” she continues. But this is no longer an option. With such advanced starvation, Cottonwood had to start Dawn on a liquid diet. In only a few weeks, his high-protein, high-triglyceride intake has doubled his weight. Once he’s weighing in properly, he’ll become a wild one again.

Dr. Ramsey wants to see Dawn at about 120 to 140 pounds before release. Just as imperative is a complete absence of human interaction. Rescue bears must not associate humans with anything other than danger, or they run the risk of needing rehabilitation all over again. That, or bears wind up dead anyway after putting humans in danger.

“If I’m lucky, I see a tail every once in a while, but that’s what I want to do. They’re top of the predatory chain. Next to the cougar, they’re the biggest predator in the state of New Mexico,” Dr. Ramsay offers. “We don’t want any of my bears to ever cause a problem, to where they won’t allow me to rehabilitate anymore.”