Black bears are known to make their dens just about anywhere, but Maine researchers have found one animal in a winter abode someplace a little bit more unusual.
“Lisa found the bear’s den approximately fifteen feet off the ground in a hollowed out tree,” explained George Matula, an associate professor at Maine’s Unity College.
The bear—named UC004 in the project—was found by biologist Lisa Bates, who assisted with Matula’s multi-year study to track black bears in the state. Beyond being one of the only undergraduate programs offering hands-on experience with black bears in the country, the study provides Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife with valuable data on the state’s black bear population.
“Our study is providing opportunities for students to get involved in real-life, large mammal research and management,” Matula said.
It is not unusual for bears to den inside hollowed-out trees, but it is uncommon for the animal to make its home so high above ground. Black bears make dens wherever they can, and seem to prefer standing trees, hillsides, rock crevices, and caves. Odder choices include abandoned structures and even a crawlspace inside someone’s home. Last month a house cleaner in Hopatcong, New Jersey found a black bear sleeping inside a vacant home. The animal had turned a crawlspace into its own personal domain, causing extensive damage to the house.
As for UC004, researchers say it is likely to remain in the tree. The bear had been previously collared by students working with the study, a problematic event that ended with a helicopter crash that injured a pilot and one student last July. The student was Lisa Bates.
In the aftermath of the crash, Bates was to first to regain consciousness and pulled the seriously injured pilot from the craft. After making sure the pilot was comfortable, Bates struck out to seek medical help. She was eventually able to find a road and gain access to a phone signal, which led to their rescue.
“The first tree that we crashed through, the first limbs, I remember that,” Bates told the Bangor Daily News. “And I remember being really, really scared. And then, really, really sad. And something else. And then black.”
This incident did not stop Bates from a second attempt to locate the bear, which was far less eventful.
File image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service