Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Lisa Muller, Joseph Clark

Committee Members

William Stiver


Wildlife agencies are forced to deal with difficult situations when orphaned or injured American black bear (Ursus americanus) cubs (<12 months old) or yearlings (>12 and <24 months old) are captured. However, bears have strong public support and interest and simply euthanizing orphaned animals would be opposed by much of the public. One option is bear rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the survival and movements of bears released from rehabilitation facilities are rarely documented. My goal was to assess survival and post-release conflict of orphaned bear cubs and yearlings following rehabilitation and release from a rehabilitation facility, Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR), in Townsend, Tennessee, USA. My specific objectives were to (1) estimate first-year survival, (2) identify key variables affecting survival, (3) determine cause-specific mortality, and (4) assess conflict behavior of bears released from ABR. I hypothesized that rehabilitated bears would survive at similar rates, die from similar causes, and engage in similar conflict behavior to wild conspecifics. I equipped 42 black bear cubs and yearlings from ABR with Global Positioning System (GPS) wildlife tracking collars during 2015 and 2016 and released them in either Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) or Cherokee National Forest (CNF). I estimated survival using known-fate methods in Program MARK. Wildlife agencies provided reports of released bears in conflict situations. I estimated survival by treating lost telemetry signals as collar failure on a living bear (optimistic estimate) or as collar destruction related to mortality (pessimistic estimate). Pessimistic and optimistic estimates of overall annual survival of bears was 0.88 (SE = 0.07) and 0.93 (SE = 0.06), respectively. Survival for bears released as cubs (0.64, SE = 0.14, n = 13) was lower than for bears released as yearlings (1.00, SE = 0.00, n = 29), and the major cause of mortality was vehicular-collisions. Three of 42 bears (7.1%) released from ABR engaged in conflict up to 1 year post-release. Survival, cause-specific mortality, and engagement in post-release conflict of my study bears was similar to or higher than published reports for wild conspecifics. Bear rehabilitation should be considered a viable option for orphaned or injured cubs or yearlings.

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