Hunters in Jasper County got quite the surprise while rabbit hunting on Feb. 16.
Andy Wheat, of Buckhead, had joined friends from Monticello for a day of hunting. A little ways into their hunt, Andy heard a strange noise that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
After tracking the noise, Andy and friends stumbled upon a newborn bear cub.
“I kept hearing it crying,” said Andy. “I just kept wandering through the thick brush until I found it.”
At first, Andy debated on what it could possibly be.
“I just didn’t have a clue what it was, a coyote pup maybe,” said Andy. “I was trying to think of everything it could be.”
It wasn’t until the hunters noticed the cub’s nub tail and its big paws that they were able to identify it.
“We didn’t want to touch it, but we snapped a picture or two while it was laying there and got away from it,” said Andy.
It rained heavy the night before, however the cub and the nest it was in were completely dry, proof the mother bear had recently been there.
After the hunt was over, a picture was sent in to Cpl. Bubba Stanford with DNR Law Enforcement to make sure of the cub’s identity.
“I immediately recognized it as a cub,” said Bubba.
Bubba, along Game Management technicians, went to the site in hopes to get more information for the Middle Georgia Bear Study. After searching for over an hour, they located the lone bear cub.
“It was more like a bed, a large bird nest on the ground, instead of den,” said Bubba.
There are three known bear populations in Georgia, which include the north Georgia mountains, central Georgia (below Macon) and south Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp.
Bear sightings in Jasper County and the surrounding areas are not uncommon, but usually those are bears just passing through. However, bears are opportunists and will hang around an area where food is abundant.
This is the first known document of a bear reproducing in the Jasper County area. The gestation period of a bear is approximately 214 days, so it is possible that the bear was just passing through when she went into labor.
Game Management technicians documented the area and took hair samples to trace the genealogy of the cub to determine which Georgia bear population it belongs to.
“It is likely that they are from the central Georgia population and followed the water ways to the area,” said Bubba.
Bubba and Game Management technicians are sure the mother would return to its cub when the area was clear of human traffic. Biologists and University of Georgia researchers have spent years studying the middle Georgia bear population, often tranquilizing adult bears to fit them with radio telemetry equipment and collecting data on cubs during the denning season. The mother and cub are not affected by the human disturbance.
“I’m sure the heavy activity ran her off, with plenty of dogs running and people in the area,” said Bubba. “Perhaps she had another cub with her, but they can only carry one at a time.”
There are no plans of anyone returning to the site of the den, and DNR is not concerned about bears showing up in Jasper County outside of their normal range.
“They’re wildlife and allowed to be there, we just let nature run its course,” said Bubba.