years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Guidelines for the short-term care of orphaned bear cubs
The following guidelines are aimed at helping in unexpected and emergency situations when a bear cub needs to be temporarily cared for prior to transfer to a sanctuary or rescue centre. They are based on Animals Asia’s experience caring for Asiatic black bear and sun bear cubs at our centres in Vietnam and China, and have been written with field conditions in Asia in mind. If you are caring for bears in the longer term, please seek more specific advice.
Cubs are very prone to stress and are likely to have been separated from their mother at a very young age, making them vulnerable and easily frightened.
Stress can reduce the desire to eat and drink, affect the immune system, and make cubs more prone to weakness and illnesses. It can cause anxious behaviours such as pacing, paw sucking, bar biting, vocalizing and aggression. If you see any of these behaviours it is likely that the cub is stressed.
Keep stress to a minimum by:
Reducing noise: keep the cub in a quiet location, away from traffic noise, people, barking dogs and other animals. Speak quietly.
Providing shelter: keep the cub in a sheltered environment, away from wind, rain and direct sun.
Reducing the number of people around the bear: wild animals are naturally scared of humans. Don’t let people look at or touch the cub. Try to have maximum one or two people feed and look after the cub – the cub will feel more comfortable with familiar people around.
Providing adequate and appropriate nutrition: see below.
House the cub in a safe and secure cage. Bears are good escape artists from a very young age. They will pull at any exposed wire or weak points in their cage. Ensure that there are no exposed sharp edges or wire which could injure the cub.
Ensure the location is quiet, well ventilated and not exposed to the elements.
If possible provide straw for the cub to sleep on. Alternatives include fresh leafy tree branches, or hessian sacks. Be sure to replace bedding every day, as it will quickly get wet and soggy and unhygienic.
Clean water must be available at all times. Small cubs are prone to dehydration. Try to use a flat bottomed bowl and if possible, secure it to the side of the cage so that it cannot be tipped over, and can be easily refilled through the bars of the cage. If it gets dirty, it must be cleaned and the water replaced.
Browse (fresh tree leaves and branches). All bear cubs will enjoy playing with browse and chewing on leaves, even if they don’t eat them. Do not give browse from trees known to be poisonous to animals. Good choices include banana leaves and bamboo leaves.
Toys: bears of all ages enjoy and benefit from being provided with some things to play with. Simple examples include: short lengths of bamboo or wood, cardboard boxes (with staples and tape removed), strong rubber dog toys, hessian sacks, towels, clean bike tyres.
It is very important to keep the environment very clean. Small and orphaned cubs have an immature immune system, which means they cannot effectively fight infection, and a dirty environment will lead to a high risk of disease and death.
Wash food and water bowls daily in soap and water
Remove faeces as soon as possible – this might need to be hosed away.
Replace toys and straw every day – do not leave wet, dirty straw in the cage.
If you think the cub is sick or injured, please seek veterinary attention. Animals Asia’s vets are happy to advise where possible. In particular, diarrhoea is very common in orphaned cubs, and is often caused by abrupt changes in diet
Do not use any medicine without checking with an experienced veterinarian first.
Don’t let dogs or cats near the cub: dogs and cats carry diseases which can kill bear cubs.
The ideal feeding regime will depend on the age of the cub:
SMALL CUBS (approx 2 – 10kg)
Cubs this size need milk. The best option is an orphan puppy formula. In the likely situation that this is not available, the next best option is a human baby formula. These are readily available throughout Asia. Good choices include Enfalac A+, Similac, Lactogen or Nestle Nan <6mth. Once you have chosen a formula, try to keep feeding that one, and do not make abrupt changes to a different one as this can upset the cub’s stomach.
Make up the formula according to the manufacturers instructions as you would for a human.
Always use clean, pre-boiled water.
Never store made up milk out of a fridge, and only store for maximum 24 hours in the fridge.
Never feed hot milk to a cub – make sure it is cooled to body temperature.
Always clean milk bowls and bottles thoroughly with hot soapy water after use – inadequately cleaned bottles develop a fatty residue from the milk and will grow harmful bacteria.
Feeding milk from a bowl: If the cub knows how to drink from a bowl, you can put the milk into a bowl for each feed. If the cub buries its nose in the bowl and snorts milk into its nose, then it doesn’t know how to drink from a bowl, and you must feed from a bottle.
Feeding milk from a bottle: You can feed using a normal human baby bottle. Make a small hole in the end of the teat. You don’t have to hold the cub for feeding – you can feed the cub from outside the cage – just put the teat through the bars of the cage. Be patient, calm and quiet – the cub is unlikely to suckle properly when stressed.
How much milk to feed:
You need to feed the cub around 15% of its bodyweight every day, but this total amount must be divided into smaller amounts, and fed 5 times per day (overfeeding milk can be just as dangerous as underfeeding).
For example: 3kg cub.
Bodyweight = 3000g.
15% = 3000 x 0.15 = 450. The cub needs a TOTAL of 450ml of milk per day, spread over 5 feeds.
450/5 = 90ml per feed.
Ideal feeding times: 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm
Un-weaned cubs can also be introduced to small amounts of solid food from a young age, even if they just play with or suck on it. Small pieces of fruit such as banana, apple and pear can been given from the start, and by the time the bear is 5-6kg it can also be offered small pieces of raw vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and pumpkin.
MEDIUM CUBS (approx 10 – 20kg)
Cubs of this size will be eating solid food, but will still benefit from some milk if possible.
How much milk to feed:
Aim to feed 10% bodyweight in milk, gradually reducing if the cub approaches 20kg
For example: 12kg cub
Bodyweight = 12000g
10% = 12000 x 0.1 = 1200 The cub needs a total of 1200ml of milk spread over 4 feeds a day
1200/4 = 300ml per feed.
These cubs need a high proportion of nutrients from solid food.
Fresh raw fruit and vegetables are ideal, as well as a protein source such as dry dog food kibble. The amount to feed depends on a number of factors. Below is a rough guide, but it is best to closely observe the cub eating. If the cub eats its food very quickly, and vocalizes during feeding, and does not settle after feeding, it is likely that you are not feeding enough. If the cub does not finish the portion given, then it is probably receiving too much food (assuming it does not have any concurrent health problems).
Rough guide to food amounts (TOTAL per day – these amounts need to be divided into 3-4 meals)
BIG CUBS (>20kg; weaned)
These cubs no longer require milk and should be eating solids well.
The meals can be reduced to 3 times a day, and as a rough guide, start with the above amounts for a 20kg cub, increasing the amounts by approximately 20% for every 5kg weight gain. Again this is a very rough guide – be guided by the bear’s feeding behaviour.
If dog kibble is not available, a small amount of cooked meat can be used. Never feed pork to bears.
Rice can be used if nothing else is available in the very short term, but contains very few nutrients and if fed alone, will not sustain a growing bear.
Bears have a sweet tooth, but try to avoid adding sweet things such as honey or condensed milk to encourage eating – it can lead to problems later. Fruit should be sweet enough.