Saving Ojai

Saving Ojai

Abandoned, malnourished bear cub rescued in local avocado orchard

By Justin Formanek 11/01/2012

A Ventura County native is recuperating in Tahoe after being found abandoned in an Ojai avocado orchard the week of Oct. 12.

A black bear cub was taken to the Ojai Raptor Center by an orchard employee after he noticed the cub had been without its mother for three days. From there, the cub was transferred to the California Wildlife Center in Malibu, where she spent the weekend under veterinary care.

The cub, which has since been named “Ojai,” was dehydrated and weighed only 10 pounds when she was found, which is alarmingly small for a black bear cub this late in the year. 

“Usually, they’re 45 or 50 pounds by now,” said California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) spokesman Andrew Hughan. “She’s just tiny.”

According to the DFG’s website, by early August, cubs are typically around 5 months old. Because of her weight, Ojai’s age was originally estimated at only 3 months.

On Oct. 15, a DFG Natural Resource Volunteer drove Ojai to the Central Valley, where a second volunteer took her the rest of the way to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, the only certified bear rehabilitation center in California. Cheryl Millham and her husband, Tom, have been operating LTWC since 1978 and have cared for more than 24,000 animals since then, with more than half being returned to the wild.

Ojai joined seven other cubs, an LTWC record. The facility typically rehabilitates an average of only four cubs a season. Despite the crowded conditions, Ojai has a room of her own.

 “She’s by herself because the other cubs are way too big and they’d probably play too rough or keep her away from the food,” said Millham.

Food is something Ojai needs desperately, and she will continue to be fed over the winter rather than being allowed to hibernate. Millham said the cub was tremendously underweight, leading to the confusion regarding her age.
“A lot of people think she’s a couple months old, but she’s not,” said Millham. “She didn’t have the proper nutrition.”
Based on a physical and dental examination, Ojai is estimated to be about 7 to 8 months old. The first year of a black bear cub’s life is a critical one, as 40 percent of those in the wild will die during this time.

Though Ojai’s appetite isn’t as good as she would like, Millham is confident that she can get her up to a healthy 60 pounds by spring. Through a diet of bear formula, grapes and the occasional hometown treat of an avocado, Ojai is on the right track. Her prognosis is good, and it is thanks to the care and diligence of numerous individuals who guided her safely along her 450-mile journey.

“It was very much a collaborative effort,” said Hughan. “If one piece had fallen down, the bear might not have been saved. It worked out really well and everybody is really pleased.” 

Ojai can be seen in her enclosure via Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s live webcam at http://www.ltwc.org.

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