Biologists tracking release of ‘South Shore Four’

Staff Report
A young male bear, one of the "South Shore Four" rehabbing at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care the past year after being orphaned as a cub, is sedated while being outfitted with identifying ear tags and a GPS tracking collar prior to release back into the wild in April.
Provided CDFW / Shelly Blair

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Wildlife officials are tracking four young black bears that were released into the forest at South Lake Tahoe after rehabilitating together for the past year with hopes of understanding their movements, to see if they stay together and to steer them away from trouble if necessary.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are seeking those answers with the recent release of the “South Shore Four,” two males and two females that recovered together at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care after three of them were orphaned when their mothers were killed by vehicles. One of the female cubs suffered a broken leg from a vehicle strike.

Fully recovered and weighing between 150 and 190 pounds, the bears were released in April, two at a time, and three were fitted with GPS tracking collars that will alert biologists to their whereabouts four times a day if canopy cover allows. Biologists also receive a mortality signal 12 hours after no movement so that recovery and cause of death can be determined.

“We’re hoping to understand their movements directly after release, whether or not the ones that were released together stay together, the distances they travel and where they’re going,” said Shelly Blair, CDFW’s wildlife biologist for Alpine and El Dorado counties, in a press release. “This is essential information to monitor the after-effects of almost a year in captivity and where they go. If they’re moving toward trouble – a campground or a community – we’ll be able to see that and get ahead of it if possible.”

Officials said GPS tracking collars are important for research but are also a precious commodity that cost between $800 and $2,000 each.

The collars are fastened around the bears’ necks with surgical tubing that will expand as they grow. After a few months of exposure to the elements, the tubing will deteriorate, and the collars will fall off to be recovered later.

“At that point, the South Shore Four’s research contributions will be short and likely complete, but will yield valuable information about the bear rehabilitation program and help improve CDFW’s efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for these animals to be successful wild bears,” said the release.

What happens when animals are released back into the wild often remains a mystery. While the rehabilitated bears are almost always outfitted with an identifying ear tag or two prior to release, a feel-good video of the bears fleeing a portable trap on their way to freedom is often the last time biologists and wildlife rehabbers ever see them, said the release.

CDFW partners with nearly 100 private wildlife rehabilitation facilities around the state that provide important care, shelter and veterinary services to injured, orphaned and other displaced wildlife of all kinds.

LTWC is one of two rehabilitation facilities licensed in California to work with black bears with the other being the San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Campus in Southern California.

Source: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

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