Bear cubs orphaned by a train
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
September 28, 2019
In late April of 1996, three steers were hit and killed by a train near Tunnel 8 just north of Hart Flat. Unfortunately, the death toll rose when a black bear sow was struck and killed by a Southern Pacific locomotive as she fed on the remains of the cattle. Her death orphaned her two young cubs, a male and a female that were only about three months old.
Train engineers kept reporting that they saw the baby bears, but by the time California Department of Fish and Game Warden Marty Smith could get to the area where they were spotted, the cubs were always gone, until May 11, when rancher Steve Cummings spotted the larger male in a pine tree near the tracks.
I went with Marty when the call came in, and Warden Mary Mason of Frazier Park climbed the tree and caught the baby with a "snare-all" wire noose and put him in a pet carrier. He weighed less than 10 pounds, and was taken to the California Living Museum outside of Bakersfield.
I was also there when his little sister was captured about a week later. She was malnourished, frightened and not doing very well when caught. The moment she was released into the pen where her brother was being kept, she immediately ran behind him and hid behind his back from zoo personnel. Her brother, small as he was, growled protectively at the humans as she sat curled up behind him.
The two bears were named Digger and Dart, and because they were so young and would become accustomed to humans, they were not considered candidates for reintroduction into the wild. Four months after their capture, they weighed 65 and 50 pounds, respectively, and each week were consuming 14 loaves of bread, 50 pounds of fruits and vegetables, 30 pounds of puppy chow, 10 pounds of milk replacer, 15 pounds of bananas, 20 pounds of nuts, and 20 pounds of fish. A special habitat enclosure was built just for them, and they lived the remainder of their lives at CALM.
– Jon Hammond
Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä, the Tehachapi Indian language.