Maine Black Bears | Yankee Classic
Three Baxter Park rangers are with Hugie. They take turns carrying the net on their backs while the others bushwack a trail through the forest; the toboggan laden with equipment snags repeatedly. Snow falls from noon onward, growing heavier with the steepness of the trail. Among his colleagues in the wildlife department, Hugie is known as an adept scrounger of equipment and people. A Massachusetts man stopping for gas late one night on his way home from Maine was pressed into duty helping Hugie with a trapped bear in the woods.Hugie seems unaware of the growing mutiny of his companions as the day lengthens. He seems attentive to little else but the still faint pulsing in his earphones. The rangers have long ago given up hope of seeing One Ear this day. “If we don’t turn back soon we’re all going to be in a serious predicament,” warned a ranger. Reluctantly Hugie agrees to turn back. He says he will be along shortly. As they start down the trail they see Hugie snowshoeing upwards, his antenna thrust before him, before he disappears among the trees.
“All he thinks about is getting his bear,” a ranger said. Someone could have been killed if we’d kept going.” Later Hugie will say he was probably chasing a dropped collar from blueberry time in August, or maybe a carcass. He took out a map. Carefully he marked where he had turned back. He wanted to be parachuted in. He wanted to see.
It is nearly midnight now. He had started this day going for One Ear 18 hours earlier. Hugie unloads his snowmobile on a deserted woods road beneath a sky of stars. There are no headlights on the snowmobile, nor a windshield. He will make the hour’s snowmobile ride to his wilderness laboratory steering with one hand, holding a flashlight on the trail with the other.
He places a tape recorder carefully in his pack. The next day he will start for Rudolphene ( named for a red spot on her,nose), an eight-year-old female with three cubs. She is his only denned bear with a litter. Earlier he had pressed his ear to the den and had heard an insistent warbling, like water expanding in a heating pipe. He will drop a microphone into the den.
When he arrives at the camp set back from two-mile-long Spectacle Pond, Hugie climbs wearily to the top bunk and is asleep in an instant. When he wakes he says he has been dreaming of duck hunting from the far end of the pond.
Rudolphene’s den is at the base of an old white pine, long dead and with the bark stripped away. Hugie notes that if timber cutters were to come in here they would be required by law to clear the dead wood first. It is rare to see other people in these woods, even cross-country skiers or snowmobilers, and he is alerted instantly when he sees snowmobile tracks heading in Rudolphene’s direction. He has a long-standing fear that publicity given to his work will attract thrill-seekers. For that reason he is always vague about where his bears den, purposely misleading inquirers by several townships. This time the snowmobile tracks are coincidence. They veer off before they come to the den.
The inside of Rudolphene’s den is lined with evergreen boughs. Hugie pokes his head in carefully. He wants to do nothing that will cause the mother to move abruptly. She cradles her cubs between her front and rear legs, covering them with her head and neck. They are nursing. The den is warm and musky; maternal. Black bears breed only every other year, beginning between the third and fourth year. These cubs were born in January.
Hugie removes the cubs with a cub catcher (a pole with a loop on the end) and weighs them by wrapping them in a tee-shirt sling suspended from a spring balance; they weigh about four pounds. At birth, though, they were the size of a Norway rat, at best 12 ounces. In proportion to its mother’s weight, a black bear cub is the smallest placental mammal at birth. The mother sustains them on milk much richer than that of a cow while her own reserves are depleted each day.
One at a time the cubs are removed from their mother. They confront winter and the strange warmth of parkas and people with shrieks. Each time Rudolphene rouses herself and comes to the edge of her den. Each time she opts to return. When threatened, females often abandon their cubs. Biologists have successfully placed orphaned cubs with foster mothers. Other times a mother will ferociously defend her young.