Bear necessities

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 2:11 PM

Aaron Musial and his young sons, Zachary and Jacob, enjoyed an experience of a lifetime earlier this week.

The trio had the opportunity to play babysitters for three young bear cubs while Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials examined the cubs’ mother.

“It was pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a mother bear with three cubs,” said Musial, who works at Clover Bar in Grand Haven.

The DNR tracked the mother bear to a den located on property owned by former Grand Haven resident Eric Wilthof.

“He called up his cousin and me and asked if we wanted to go with the DNR,” Musial said. “This particular bear had a radio transmitter, and one of the DNR field agents tracked it down maybe a month ago. They found out the bear was denning on his property near Big Rapids.”

Musial and his two young sons tagged along as the DNR officials got near the site where the bear was denned up, then waited as the officials sedated the mother.

“They don’t really hibernate; they winter sleep,” Musial explained. “So she was awake, and the DNR went in and darted her. About 15 minutes later, they called us in and we got to babysit the three cubs.

“They figured she had cubs, but they didn’t know how many. It was pretty neat to see three of them. That’s pretty unheard of, from what they were saying.”

The cubs weighed between 7-8 pounds. Musial said the DNR officials estimated the cubs were born in late January or early February, putting them at 6-8 weeks old.

At that age, they still rely on their mother for warmth, so the Musials unzipped their coats and put the cubs inside their jackets.

“They ran a bunch of tests on the mom, taking blood work, hair samples, and checked her out health-wise,” Musial said. “Meanwhile, the boys and I and Eric’s cousin basically babysat the three cubs for about two hours. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was pretty much like walking up to a litter of puppies. We had to keep them in our jackets because it was pretty cold out. Their biggest concern was to keep them warm.

“They were pretty docile, pretty easy going. They weren’t trying to run away. Once they figured out it was a lot warmer in your jacket, they were pretty content in there.

“It was an experience the kids will never forget.”

Read more of this story in today's print edition or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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