An orphaned bear cub was captured at the Santa Fe National Cemetery and taken to a wildlife shelter last week, the day after its mother was fatally struck by an unidentified driver on Rosario Boulevard.
State game officials believe a second stray cub is still roaming the area.
The captured female cub was spotted Sept. 9 in a tree at the national cemetery.
State Game and Fish Department officers used a dart gun to tranquilize the bear and then climbed up a ladder to carry it down.
They took the cub to the Cottonwood Veterinary Clinic in Española, where it will be prepared for release into the wild.
It’s good the cub was caught quickly, said Kathleen Ramsay, a veterinarian who oversees the clinic’s wildlife rehabilitation center, because cubs that wander through neighborhoods raiding bird feeders often don’t learn to eat the foods necessary to survive in the wild.
“What she has to learn to eat is important,” Ramsay said.
At the center, all but the most essential human contact with bears is avoided, she said, explaining if bears become comfortable with people, they are more likely to approach them in outdoor settings, which is dangerous.
The cub has been named Bonita and is paired with one named Pooh Bear, recently picked up in Jemez Springs, Ramsay said. The two will be trained together to live in the wild, and then they’ll be released in tandem, she added.
Typically, two cubs that have bonded like this will stick together for about a year, alerting one another to any approaching threat — the biggest one being adult bears — before parting ways, Ramsay said.
“If we can release them in pairs for their first year of life, they do so much better,” Ramsay said.
Like hibernation, bears’ mating and birthing run like clockwork in New Mexico, she said. Cubs are born between late November and early December, which makes it easy to pin down their ages.
Ramsay said she takes the place of a cubs’ mother in teaching them what to eat.
She prunes acorn and chokecherry branches and hangs them in the cubs’ cages to mimic trees they’ll encounter.
She also put plants with rose hips in their pens and leaves rotting logs in a field so the cubs can tear them apart to find bugs, a prime food source for bears.
“We work very hard to make sure these bears get training on what they need to do to stay alive,” Ramsay said. “And our success has been quite good.”
One year, radio tracking was done on 56 yearlings that were released, and all but two made it to at least 2 years of age, she said.
She generally releases cubs in early January, after hunting season has ended and the yearly hibernation has begun. That way, the bears will crawl into a den until May.
The Santa Fe cub might be turned loose in January if it reaches at least 110 pounds, giving it enough girth to get through June, when bear food is more scarce, Ramsay said.
As for the mother bear that was killed, the carcass was sold to a local buyer to use for the fur and meat, said Tristanna Bickford, a spokeswoman for the state Game and Fish Department. Some of the fur was placed in live-capture traps in an attempt to lure the cubs, Bickford added.
The agency is still searching for the second orphaned cub but hasn’t heard of any sightings, she said. A cub isn’t likely to roam as far as an adult bear, increasing the chance it’s still in the Santa Fe area.
“But you can never quite guess with wild animals where they’re going to go and why they go there,” Bickford said.