We have witnessed some remarkable sights while immersed in nature, documenting the stories that will underpin Nature Labs – a project that seeks to inspire a new generation to better understand and appreciate our natural inheritance.
This week, as part of a larger project with our Nature Labs partners, we had another remarkable opportunity: The chance to capture the story of a bear family’s first emergence from their den.
To respectfully and safely observe the seldom seen, yearly bear ritual is remarkable in its own right, but to witness a cub’s first steps out of the den reminds us of the wonderment and fragility of new life.
The cinnamon black bear sow took several peaks out of her den, before her cub joined her for its first glimpse into its new world, the two of them finally belly-crawling out of what seemed like an impossibly small opening from the space she used throughout the winter months.
At first, their eyes rarely opened – the harsh evening light seemed to be a jarring change from the darkness of the den. But with time, they adjusted and between the many yawns, she would take time to drink from the puddles produced from snowmelt.
The cub didn’t venture from beneath the warmth and safety of its mom’s legs for several minutes – and the sow seemed content with allowing her cub to slowly become more comfortable in the landscape.
Finally, a desire to nurse brought the cub into the open and with this first act of bravery, it seemed to quickly find the energy and resolve to explore. From slow, careful movements to bouncing, joyful jumps, the cub transformed before our eyes. And with its newfound willingness to embrace the habitat that will nourish its existence – what must, at first, have been a sensory overload of excitement and fear – the sow took her cue to shepherd her newborn into the trees and begin the tireless journey of teaching and feeding.
Of North America’s bears, black bear cubs have the greatest likelihood of surviving their first year, but science tells us the odds are still steep, with various recent studies suggesting mortality rates ranging from 30-50%, depending on environmental conditions and the number of cubs in a litter. This isn’t this sow’s first cub, we understand, and given that it is a single cub, these circumstances give it a significantly stronger chance at health and life.
With the photos, videos and observations gathered from this experience, we will be able to bring dry, abstract lessons to life in new and profound ways – across science, socials, art and language – enabling nature to be a real-life lens for curriculum-based high school learning. Through Nature Labs, this content will inform larger stories within a curated virtual learning platform, each accompanied with unit and lesson plans, rubrics and multimedia resources for all learning styles to better aid teachers in the classroom.
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* This is an extremely rough cut of imperfect images and videos from our encounter. In order to respect the bears, we had to make some visual sacrifices that were imperative to ethical storytelling – a core value of Nature Labs and those we work with.