Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Caring for Influx of Bear Cubs

It's been three months since the adorably cute baby bear Tahoe arrived at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center, capturing the imagination of hundreds across the country.

The story of her survival – she was mysteriously left on a doorstep one night and transported to LTWC – is a happy one, thanks to her caretakers Tom and Cheryl Millham, who bottle-fed her and looked after her every need.

Now, the Millhams have their hands full with eight new bear cubs at LTWC, the only place in California licensed to care for wild bear cubs. 

No one really knows the reason for so many black bear cubs showing up at once. All the cubs are orphans with one exception, Meyers, who was hit by a car at 5 months old.

"Mom was crossing the street with two cubs behind her, and the car swerved to miss the mom and the second cub but didn't see the first cub," Millham said. 'When we got there we thought it was dead. We picked it up, and it kind of opened its eyes and looked at me like, 'What are you doing?'"

Millham hopes that all nine cubs will be ready to go back into the wild in about seven months.

Until then, this is home.

Tucked away inside a leafy residential street on Cherry Hill Circle in South Lake Tahoe, the center is a haven for sick animals: bears, bobcats, fawns, porcupines, birds – Millham even helped rescue a mountain lion once, but didn't bring it back with him.

"We started because there was a need," Millham said. "It's made a world of difference."

LTWC is getting ready to move to a bigger $10 million, 27-acre space nearby and has already raised $3 million towards it.

The center relies entirely on donations, which funds everything from food — it costs about $800 per week to feed growing cubs — to special cages and medicine.

NBC Bay Area caught a glimpse of the cubs this week as they played with each other inside one of the bear enclosures. Missing from most of the action was Tahoe, who decided she'd rather spend the time hiding in the room next door.

And that's not because she doesn't like humans. "It's because she's likes them too much," said Millham, who is trying to limit any human interaction with her and instead make her socialize with the other bears.

"She sometimes make noises out there — it's kinda like a dog in pain — and we know she's not happy and will not associate with other cubs," he said. "They want to play with her, but she doesn't."

Tahoe is sharing her cage with Bieber 1 and Bieber 2, who hail from Bieber, California, population 312 as of the 2010 census. The cubs saw their mother get hit by a car and killed, and California Fish and Wildlife brought them to LTWC on June 29.

Tahoe makes an appearance toward the very end, lured by the fresh trout lying on the floor. The cubs also eat a ton of fruits -- watermelon, canteloupe, grapes -- for their diet.

Also in the bear cage are two cubs from Conway Summit and one of a pair from Paradise, California. His sister is in a different cage by herself, recovering from gum surgery.

"Our volunteers have named her 'Toothless' because she's missing a tooth," Millham says, adding that they are hopeful it will grow back.

Brockway, the newest arrival, is also in a cage by himself until he puts on some weight. At 11 pounds, Millham says he's still too small to socialize with the other bear cubs. He was found next to the body of his dead mother near Lake Tahoe's north shore.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword here, but we hope that a cub is picked up only because the mom is dead," Millham said. "That's obviously a sad situation — but don't pick up a cub just because it's there by itself. The mom may be somewhere nearby."

For more information on Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care or how to donate, visit their Facebook page or website.

To watch the bear cubs on web cam, click here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the LTWC is the state's only wildlife rehab organization.
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