This post was reprinted in entirety from the Oregon Zoo's outstanding press release
"Michelle, we need your help."
So began a conversation that Michelle Schireman, an Oregon Zoo keeper known for taking in orphaned cougar cubs, realized would upend her life, both professionally and personally, for a while. It was her day off from the zoo, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was calling her at home.
As Schireman recounted that surprise phone call to zoo staffers a couple days later, a furry black animal about the size of a Labrador puppy wobbled Bambi-like around her boots, unsure of where to go next. Its tiny size, downy fur, and attachment to a nearby beaver plush toy suggested something harmless. But the sharp teeth and long claws confirmed its true identity: American Black Bear – and, of course, the reason for ODFW's call.
On April 23, state wildlife officials fielded a call from a Medford, Ore., family that had taken a young bear cub from the wild and brought it into their home. With no idea how to care for the helpless yet wild animal, they turned to professionals. Those professionals turned to Schireman.
The animal keeper, who serves as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' population manager for cougars, has fostered orphaned cougar cubs for several years, having placed nearly 75 during her time with the Oregon Zoo.
"I'm usually the first person fish and wildlife departments call when orphaned cougars are found in the wild," Schireman said. "Young cougars can't survive without their mothers, so I work with accredited zoos to find them new homes." Schireman's big heart and animal-care expertise led wildlife officials to believe she might find a home for this young bear cub too.
She got permission to house the cub temporarily at the zoo's Veterinary Medical Center during her workday, taking him home with her at night since the cub was still of nursing age and required around-the-clock care. At just a couple of months old, the bear weighed 4 pounds – about the same as a half-gallon of milk – which, surprisingly, is normal for an animal that could grow to be 6 feet tall and weigh up to 600 pounds.
Read more and enjoy many photos after the jump