Utility workers in Tennessee were caught by surprise when responding to reports of a propane gas leak in mid-February 2021. When looking into the crawl space under a home, the crew found a mother black bear and her three cubs.
Wildlife officials on the scene took the 3-week-old cubs, each of which weighed about 2 pounds each, to a facility under the care of the Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR), a nonprofit bear conservancy organization. At the time, wildlife experts thought that a reunion between the mother and her offspring — now called Jasmine, Jeannie, and Magic Bear — would be “next to impossible.”
“Once workers were able to access the crawl space she was using as her den, they discovered considerable damage to the ductwork and insulation under the cabin,” wrote the group in a Facebook post on Feb. 16, 2021.
“It’s likely mother bear was responsible for the gas leak that started the chain of events that led to her three cubs arriving at ABR. Regardless, she can’t continue to use the crawl space as a den, and the cubs are too young to be moved around in the cold.”
But the agency was quickly proven wrong.
In a post shared to Facebook on Feb. 17, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said that the mother had returned to the crawl space, and the owner of the house was going to allow her to continue living there. After the cubs spent two days being hand-reared and bottle-fed by rescuers, wildlife officials placed them in a box with a portable heating pad and blanket back in the crawl space.
In the video, the mother can be seen tending to her cubs, with her snout poking out of the crawl space as one of her cubs cried out.
“Cubs in the wild are generally quiet; they don't want to attract attention. However, when they're hungry, frightened, or cold, they SCREAM. They want to attract their mother. It works,” wrote ABR.
Black bears are native to Tennessee and much of North America.
Reaching heights of up to 6 feet tall when standing on their hind legs, their body weight fluctuates between 125 and 600 pounds, depending on the season. And when it is denning season, females will den with their cubs in a number of places, including under boulders, tree roots, fallen trees — and, yes, under houses. Females will typically hibernate as early as November and stay in their den until as late as May, with their cubs typically born in January or February.
Cubs themselves are born blind and without fur and weigh in at just a few ounces. By the time they emerge in spring, each individual can grow to up to 5 pounds. Young and vulnerable, cubs will stay with their mom for the first year or so of their lives before venturing out to establish their own territory.
According to BearWise, one of the responding groups under the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, one of the leading factors in human-bear contact is food. It is not clear how the bear came to find the crawl space, but black bears are known to be attracted to human food sources, including garbage. Because black bears are rarely aggressive toward people, the owner of the home told authorities he would allow the bear to continue denning in his crawl space until the end of her hibernation period. (Black bears do not defecate, urinate, or eat during their hibernation.)
To limit humans' risk of coming into contact with a black bear, experts recommend keeping food and garbage locked away and inaccessible to curious bears. But if you come into contact with a black bear, experts advise making your presence known by yelling at the bear and slowly backing away without turning your back. And in the event of an attack, fight back.