Species Spotlight: Black Bear Cubs Willow and Belle

Our American black bear cubs, Willow and Belle, are anything but ordinary. In fact, they are not black at all! The Zoo received these orphaned cubs in December 2013 and initially weighed 40 pounds. However, carnivore keeper Stephanie Mantilla reported that Willow is 139 pounds, and Belle is 148 pounds. Some of their favorite foraging foods include grapes, bananas, avocados and hard boiled eggs! Needless to say, the girls adjust well to life at the Zoo.

Interestingly enough, the girls are often mistaken for grizzly cubs. American black bears are actually most similar to the Asian black bear, and are very different from grizzly bears based on size and profile. Grizzlies are much larger in size, and have an “angled” profile because their shoulder blades stick out; black bears are smaller framed and have a more “straight” profile due to their smaller shoulder blades. The shade of black bear fur even differs from region to region! Willow and Belle both came from California and Mantilla said black bears from that region have a cinnamon-colored coat. In warmer areas, their fur looks blacker because of the heat.

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While black bears in general are listed as “least concern”, their conservation status differs depending on the state. Black bears in Louisiana and various parts of Texas are listed as endangered, and each individual state lists their own sub-species of black bears as endangered or not.

“There are different sub-species of black bears, like the Louisiana black bear,” Mantilla said. “Black bears are a little bit genetically isolated, so it determines whether or not if they’re endangered or not. But overall, black bears are the highest populated bear species in the world, and they’re doing pretty well.”

And while some may think hunting is the biggest threat to this species, Mantilla added that feeding bears actually causes the most harm to them. She said it is best to refrain from feeding wild bears because they are so intelligent, they will remember where to go to find more food.

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Even though the black bear are listed as “least concern”, the Zoo is committed to bringing awareness and conservation efforts for all species living here. The Zoo will hold Bear Awareness Day on Saturday, April 4 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. All proceeds will go to the East Texas Black Bear Task Force, an organization dedicated to restoring the black bear’s historic range in east Texas through education, research and habitat management. The event will take place in front of the bear exhibits. Stop by and say hi to Willow and Belle!



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