Today Lily, the black bear, gave birth live, in real time, for thousands of dedicated fans to watch courtesy of a den cam. The cam is broadcasting live from her den near Ely in Northeastern Minnesota, USA, less than 30 miles from the Canadian border; and was set up by our very own scientific advisor Dr. Lynn Rogers. Since her Facebook page was created on January 8th, Lily has accumulated over 50,000 devoted and enthusiastic fans. Even I can’t stay away from the site. Whenever I’m at my desk, I have a window open on my computer screen so that I can keep track of the goings on. I have to admit it’s been a bit addictive, but undeniably fascinating.
There are so many things viewers have learned about bears and hibernation. I think many of us are surprised by her frequent activity and movement. Lily has even left the den to gather more bedding materials. While on a foray outside, researchers speculate that she may have defecated as well. Now that would be something new. For years, educators like myself as well as biologists have been saying that bears do not urinate, defecate, eat or drink while they are in the den. It seems that perhaps we might have been wrong. While Lily’s research team hasn’t offered us a definitive answer yet, it would appear that they are at least willing to state that “hibernation varies across America and there is individual variation too.” And the labor… wow, it seemed incredibly difficult given that cubs are born about 11-13 ounces (301-364 grams) in size – and it seemed to go on for many many hours.
I have been watching the den cam on and off for many days and have alerted everyone I know about it encouraging them to watch. People can’t seem to walk away from their computer screens. Lily went into labor yesterday and had many bouts of convulsive body movements. She continuously pushed her paw against the side of the den and at one point appeared to be biting on her arm. This morning when I awoke, she was very restless and seemed quite uncomfortable. My heart went out to her as did the hearts of thousands of fans around the country and around the world.
Then at 11:42 a.m. Lily pushed her body against the side of the den and heaved one more time… then there was the sound of a squealing cub. Mom continued to grunt. The cub’s voice sounded almost like a human baby’s cry. I could hardly contain myself. The cheers radiated from my office. It was almost like becoming a grandmother. The joy was extraordinary and I felt very emotional about the whole thing as evidenced by the tears streaming down my face. I felt a bit silly until I went onto Lily’s Facebook page and read the comments of grown men and women everywhere crying and feeling overwhelmed with emotion.
It’s been a historic day. I don’t think there have been too many people that have witnessed a wild cub being born in real time. It is a day I won’t soon forget. I can still vividly remember the cub’s teensy weensy little arm reaching up to mom’s muzzle. It was so very tiny, it harldly seemed real. I realized the vulnerability of the little critter. I can’t wait to watch Lily’s cub grow in the den and become a beautiful big bear.
Watch the birth on YouTube. The grunts are mom. The squawks are the wee cub.