LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – State wildlife officials relocated a bear and her three cubs after they were caught in a neighborhood where bears have become regular visitors. However, some animal advocates say the move puts the animals in danger.
Neighbors say bears are common in Los Alamos. Every spring, they make their way out of hibernation and into town.
“They’ve spent four to six months sleeping, burning calories, and when they come out, the only thing they can think about is calories, calories, and more calories,” said Dr. Kathleen Ramsay, a veterinarian and founder of Cottonwood Rehab Center. “Bears have an absolutely astounding sense of smell.”
This spring, a mom and her babies were found raiding the trash. Learning she could get what she needed from humans, Ramsay says she became what is called a nuisance bear.
“When this female bear first started being seen, we knew we were going to be into trouble. Triple cubs is an astronomical amount of calories she has to eat,” said Ramsay. “This is a bear that has learned that humans can provide her what she needs to survive.”
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officers captured them and moved them to western New Mexico. Cottonwood Rehab in Española is a facility that rescues injured wildlife. They say the move is dangerous. Bears are territorial and the mother and her cubs could be attacked by other bears.
“She’s trying to feed three bear cubs, she’s trying to feed 3,000 calories. The number one killer of a bear is a bear. We have some big 400-, 500-pound boars, and that’s what we call a male bear, out there that don’t care what they’re going to kill. Mother is in a territory she doesn’t know. She has three cubs she’s trying to keep safe, and she has no idea where the food sources are going to come from,” said Ramsay. “No matter where they put her, there’s other bears there. She is in their territory.”
Ramsay says bears, especially if separated from cubs, will also try to return home, and with highways and roads, many often get hit and killed by a car in the process. Game and Fish say they do a lot of training to make sure transrelocations are successful. They also tag the bears to keep track of them.
Both New Mexico Game and Fish and animal advocates like Cottonwood Rehab say this can be handled differently in a neighborhood that is “bear aware.” If you live in an area where bears frequent, little changes can make them less of a nuisance bear and instead, return to the wild for food.
They suggest getting bear resistant trash cans, which Los Alamos County Environmental Services offer for around $80. Another big tip is bringing bird feeders in at night. Things like sugar water and bird seed are a big source of calories for bears, with very little energy-expenditure neeeded.
“Game and Fish went out and looked at the street where we’ve been seeing mama bear on and within walking 14 homes, 14 homes have bird feeders out at 7:30 at night,” said Ramsay, who says removing these easy food sources is a good start. “She will then start going back out into the woods where she has to work a little harder.”
They also suggest not putting garbage out until the morning of pick-up, never leaving pet food outside, and cleaning and storing grills after using, as the grease and fat are a big draw for bears. If you have fruit trees, pick the fruit as they ripen and store them securely inside. Any fruit that has fallen should be cleaned immediately as they attract bears. Beehives and chicken pens should be kept away from the house and secured with electric fencing. Woodpiles should also be kept away, as they attract rodents, which then attract bears.
Game and Fish says New Mexico is home to a subspecies of black bear that can be black, brown or cinnamon in color, and can run up to 35 miles per hour. Adult black bears weigh between 125-600 pounds. If you do come face-to-face with a bear in your neighborhood, you’re encouraged to not run, stand upright and slowly wave your arms, slowly back away, look for cubs so you don’t come in-between a mother and cubs, and if attacked, fight back aggressively.