Mama Holly with her two cubs
Photo by Tina Crowe

Mother brown bear adopts abandoned cub

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Up in an Alaska national park, one mother bear has a new nickname: Supermom.

After his own mother abandoned him, it was thought a young grizzly bear club would perish in the cold winter at the Katmai National Park & Preserve. 

But in an act of kindness not typically seen in the wild, a brown mama bear named Holly (aka Supermom) noticed the orphaned grizzly cub and began raising him as one of her own.

In those first few years, cubs need their mothers to teach them how to hibernate, an important ritual they need to learn the first few years in order to survive. 

Believed to be around 18 to 20 years old, Holly is now raising her own nine-month-old biological cub and her adopted cub side by side. 

And although another cub means another body in the den to stay warmer throughout the winter, it also takes a toll on the mother.

“Any time the sow has cubs, it is a strain on her system,” said Roy Wood, Katmai’s chief of interpretation, to the Alaska Dispatch News. “Having to feed them, nurse them, or share food with them could drag her health down, and it’s possible they won’t make it through the winter.”

The cub was first abandoned this past summer, when his mother left him for a dominant male bear. Long after his mother left, the yearling stayed in a tree by the waterfalls she left him at for hours on end, waiting for her to return.

“He would come out of the tree, wander around and then go back into the tree to get away from the falls, where all the big, scary bears are,” says Wood.

The abandoned yearling before meeting Holly.
The abandoned yearling before meeting Holly.

After a month of being alone, however, the cub was spotted fishing with Holly about 10 miles from the waterfalls. And according to rangers, the two have formed a familial relationship and will likely hibernate together this winter.

“We don’t know what caused Holly to adopt him. It may just be a powerful maternal instinct,” said Wood.

This isn’t the first time Holly has acted as a supermom. In 2007, she nursed a cub from another litter back to health after it broke its leg, even carrying the newborn on her back. Now the bear, dubbed Backpack by rangers, is healthy and an excellent fisher.

It’s the park’s policy never to interfere with the bears’ natural cycle, even if the situation is dire, in order to maintain a natural habitat. 

Luckily for the cubs of Katmai, Supermom Holly will be there to save the day.