The newest, temporary resident spent his first night in Enclosure 2 nestled in branches of the tallest tree, giving his caretakers an uneasy first watch.
No reason to worry, he must have thought, as he climbed back down in the morning.
This guest has been given the name Tartan by Appalachian Bear Rescue, where the 14-month-old black bear yearling will now reside for a few months to recover from a difficult time in the wilds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Tartan was brought to ABR, a black bear rehabilitation facility in Townsend, after being spotted by people in the national park who feared he might be sick or injured. The male bear weighed only 22 pounds, half the size he should have been at this age, said Dana Dodd, executive director for ABR.
He arrived on April 6 after being taken for an examination at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. Tartan was malnourished and had poor muscle development, his new caretakers discovered. The tiny bear was given anti-worm medications and placed inside Hartley House at ABR, which is an indoor enclosure.
It wasn’t like anything Tartan had experienced in the wild, with bed mats and bowls for food. As soon as he was strong enough, the male bear was released into Wild Enclosure 2 where he now has open spaces, trees to climb and the chance to forage for food.
“This is a male yearling that should have been with his mother,” Dodd said. “Female bears give birth every other year. The yearlings leave mom around June, which is mating season.”
Like most of the other bears brought here, Tartan’s journey isn’t known. He was alone in the Smokies when found. He was apparently separated from his mom and struggled to survive on his own before Smokies visitors spotted him and notified park officials.
Curators at ABR monitor the temporary houseguests 24/7 with the use of cameras. They maintain as little human contact as possible. Dodd said Tartan has been acting like a bear should.
“He’s a good bear in that he is nervous about things,” she said. The wind causes him some uneasiness because he can’t tell from which direction smells are coming from. Tartan’s response is to climb trees for safety, like bears in the wild will do.
ABR has been in operation since 1996, and Tartan is Bear No. 347 that’s been taken in here. He spends his days exploring his surroundings, climbing trees and feasting on peanuts, muscadine grapes, bear diet pellets and blueberries that are randomly tossed inside the enclosure. He was also fed yogurt when he arrived.
As for how long Tartan will remain at ABR, Dodd said probably into June. That will give him time to adequately recover and grow.
“Late June is when they would be looking for berries to be ripened out in the wild,” Dodd said. “We just have to get some pounds on him first.”
From the looks of Tartan, he may never have come back in December with his mom and possible siblings, Dodd said. “We don’t know how long he’s been separated. It wasn’t the day before (he was found).”
Had Tartan been with his bear family, he would be getting ready to separate in June or July. Mom sends her babies away during mating season to prevent male suitors from killing them, Dodd explained. She said the male yearlings are then completely on their own. Female yearlings are allowed by the momma bear to stay close by.
“That’s when you get to a time of year with a bunch of teenagers hanging out and they may or may not know how to behave,” Dodd said of the young bears. “You get teenagers showing up in places they shouldn’t. We get lots of calls.”
Tartan is the second bear to arrive at ABR in 2022. The first one was Peace, who was only weeks old back in early March. He was successfully fostered into a bear den with a new family hours after his arrival.
That is always the best outcome, for these black bear cubs and yearlings to be raised by their own, Dodd has said over the years. ABR steps in when that isn’t possible. As soon as they feel their temporary visitors are capable of life back in the wild, that’s where they go.