In Alaska, An Uncommon Act Of Maternal Love
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now to Southern Alaska to Katmai National Park, where you can witness an uncommon act of maternal love in the wild. There Holly, a Brown bear, has adopted a yearling cub, who was abandoned by his own mother earlier this summer. Holly's taking care of that young bear along with her own nine- month-old cub. A rare act of adoption that's delighting park visitors and rangers, including my guest, Roy Wood. Wood is a park ranger at Katmai National Park and Preserve. Welcome to the program.
ROY WOOD: High good afternoon.
BLOCK: And how unusual is it for a brown bear to adopt an abandoned cub?
WOOD: As far as we know it's incredibly unusual. Bears are pretty much selfish animals. They look out for themselves and perhaps that of their young. So this is just an incredibly special thing that we've been able to witness in the wild.
BLOCK: Well tell us about the yearling. Why was it abandoned?
WOOD: Well, its mother apparently came into estrous and was receptive to mating and was pursued quite heavily by one of the large, very aggressive males at Brooks Falls and during that courting period, which lasted about a week, the cub was forced to stay away from its mother. And after that mating was over she just never returned for it.
BLOCK: And were you worried about the cub?
WOOD: You know, it's hard when you see an adorable baby animal that is in distress. It was in the tree waiting for her to come back - bawling, going mom, mom, mom. For hours and hours and hours trying to get her attention and she just didn't come back. And then when it finally came down out of the tree we thought, well there's little chance that this cub is going to make it because it's wondering around with dozens of large, aggressive males around. It may not know how to catch fish on its own. But it persevered - it stayed in there, so we thought maybe it has a chance.
BLOCK: So when Holly started taking care of the abandoned cub what was she doing? How is she taking care of him?
WOOD: Well, the first photos that we had we thought, well maybe she's just tolerating it. Maybe she hasn't really adopted it, but about a month later we saw the three of them sharing a fish. And I believe it was two days later perhaps, that we actually were able to witness the three of them nursing. So Holly was providing milk to this adopted cub and that was the dead giveaway that this wasn't just tolerance, this was a full-blown acceptance of this cub as a charge of her own.
BLOCK: Well, as we head toward winter what do you figure the future is for this blended family of bears?
WOOD: Well that's still the great unknown right now with them. I mean, so far, you know we've seen some amazing things with her. We've seen her adopt it, we've seen her nurse, we've seen her share food, we've seen her protect it from approaching bears. So the last bit of adoption that we're unsure about is will she actually take it into the den with her. And I believe that she probably is going to do it, because at this point there's no disadvantage to doing it, really only advantages. She might have to make her den a little bit bigger to accommodate that extra cub, but that extra body warmth of having it in the den with her will more than pay her back for that extra effort.
BLOCK: Yeah, I suppose we might like to think that there are all sorts of altruistic reasons for a bear to do this, but presumably she would have reasons of her own to think that this would be a useful thing - for her to have another cub.
WOOD: We thought about that a lot - like why would she do this because she has to produce more milk, she has to catch more fish, but there are also the positives. There's an extra set of eyes looking for danger all the time and there are probably other bonuses that we can't even think of not being bears ourselves.
BLOCK: Well Ranger Wood thanks so much for talking to us about it.
WOOD: Well thank you. It's been my pleasure.
BLOCK: Roy Wood is a ranger at Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve where he's been watching a brown bear welcome an abandoned cub into her family.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.