By Kathleen LaDuke
SC Contributing Writer
A small group of ESU students, staff, and President Welsh joined Kelcey Burguess with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife in bear tagging on Friday, March 28.
Led by Dr. Jane Huffman, biology professor and director of ESU’s Applied DNA Sciences Center, students were given a taste of what it’s like to work with wildlife.
The bear den was located less than a hundred feet from a ski slope in Vernon, New Jersey, but the bears did not seem to mind the noise. A mother and her four cubs inhabited this cozy abode, surrounded by boulders and completely camouflaged in the side of the mountain.
First, the mother had to be tranquilized so that the group could work with her cubs. The cubs were docile enough to handle because, quite frankly, they just wanted to be kept warm.
The NJ Fish and Wildlife team is working to keep track of New Jersey’s bear population.
While they tagged the bears and inserted chips for tracking, ESU students took samples for projects of their own.
A blood sample was taken from the mother for graduate student Shawqui Darwish’s thesis, which focuses on looking for infections by the blood parasite Babesia in bears over time.
Mouth, nose, and anal swabs were taken from all bears for another graduate student’s microbiology project.
In addition, NJ fish and wildlife took weights and tissue samples for genotyping, all of which were put into a database that keeps track of New Jersey bears and their parentage.
The next portion of the trip consisted of cub cuddling and group photos.
“When they first came out they were so adorable that I was just speechless. They were shivering so you put them in your jacket and they would just nuzzle up to you,” said graduate student Megan Napoli when asked about the cubs.
Everyone had a chance to hold the cubs and no one wanted to give them up. The smallest cub was only four pounds and fit nicely inside a hoodie.
At the conclusion of the trip, Vick’s VapoRub was placed on the mother’s nose so that she would not know that her cubs had been handled.
NJ Fish and Wildlife will tag even more bear cubs this spring.
Students are very grateful to Dr. Huffman and Kelcey Burguess for giving them this opportunity.
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