January 22, 8:47 PM [local time, Friday evening]
The long wait is over. When labor started at 1:59 PM CST yesterday, we thought it would be short. Cubs average only ¾ pound and 9 inches long. How long could that take? Along with thousands of you, we spent a sleepless night as bouts of labor continued for 21 hours and 39 minutes. Finally, at 11:38 AM CST, Lily made some contortions, looked under her, and began the intense sweet motherly grunts that bears only make to cubs. Could it be? A loud squawk from the cub made it definite. Lily tucked her head under her chest to care for the cub and breathe on it.
A few minutes later there were more contortions. This time it was only the afterbirth. As Lily rose up to eat the afterbirth, she let cold air under her, making the cub squawk and making people wonder if it was a second cub. First litters are typically 1 or 2. We listened long and hard today but never heard two cub voices.
Now at 8:23 PM, we think Lily is done. She had a single cub. She is now breathing a relaxed three breaths per minute instead of the four per minute prior to birth. We don't see her muscles contracting like in the past couple days. Her restlessness is gone. However, just after 5 PM, Lily made a few motions reminiscent of last night. If another cub is coming, which we doubt, we’ll need the help of your eyes and ears to determine when it arrives. We can’t stay up another night.
Sharing these discoveries with thousands of people like this is a highlight of our careers. It’s a purpose of the North American Bear Center. 50 exhibits of Lily and other wild bears show some of the most interesting behaviors we have witnessed. Snippets of some of those are on bear.org.
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Update – January 23, 3:36 PM [local time, Saturday afternoon]
Lily has one job now—keeping her cub warm and fed. Instead of exiting the den periodically, Lily will spend the next couple months hovering over the cub and responding to each vocalization.
If the cub sleeps quietly or makes the pulsing hum of contentment, Lily holds still. The motor-like hum means the cub is nursing successfully. Sometimes, when a cub is just warm and comfortable, it hums too, but more quietly than when nursing.
You may also hear the sound of Lily licking. She needs to lick the cub to stimulate urination and defecation. Lily consumes the cub's body wastes and recycles those nutrients. Once we start seeing the cub in the den we may witness this behavior.
If the cub squawks, Lily moves. It means the cub is cold, uncomfortable under her, or can’t find a nipple. A little squawk elicits a little move on Lily’s part. A big squawk can elicit more movement. There may be other differences in the cries that we haven’t figured out yet, but I’m sure Lily knows. You can learn more about bear vocalizations and what they mean on the North American Bear Center’s website.
It might be weeks before we can determine the sex of the cub. Once the cub has matured a bit and is more visible in the den we may get a peek. Without litter mates competing for milk, this little cub should grow fast and may weigh 9 pounds when they leave the den in the spring.
One viewer reported coyotes barking and howling. Coyotes and wolves live in the area but are not a worry. In our 43 years of research, we’ve found tracks at dens of injured bears, and a pack of wolves did kill a mother and cubs in a less secure den back in 1972, but wolves and coyotes mostly ignore healthy bears like Lily, especially when there is only one den entrance to defend. We hope Lily is not disturbed, but she would do a great job defending herself and the cub while thousands of viewers cheered her on.
As researchers, we watch and report. If we interfered, we wouldn’t learn anything. To learn more about the research associated with this project visit the Wildlife Research Institute's website.
The Lily T-Shirts are now available in the North American Bear Center online Gift Shop. Thank you for your patience!
Thank you again for your donations. Getting rid of the debt will make a difference to what we can do for bears.
—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, North American Bear Center
So. The second squawk I heard was not a second cub being born, but rather the first cub protesting a cold draft.
I find it highly amusing that baby bears hum when they are contented. We in the Kat™ household have long joked that the only animals to be highly prized are those which purr. I guess baby bears must now be admitted to the pantheon of animals that are Kat™-approved.