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Treemendous fun: Timber and Thorn climb a tree

March 21, 2024, 9:46 a.m.
Topic: Animal well-being
Black bear cub Thorn in a tree

The young bear cubs climb more than 50 feet high in Great Northwest habitat

Timber and Thorn, the Oregon Zoo’s two playful black bear cubs, are reaching new heights this week — literally. As the weather warms up, the duo has been scaling the tall Douglas Fir trees in their habitat to feast on the tasty new growth near the top.

“It’s pretty amazing to see them climb so high,” said Jen Osburn Eliot, who oversees the zoo’s Great Northwest area. “Visitors have told us they could see the bears before they even entered the zoo!”  

Found wandering separately in Alaska and too young to survive on their own, both cubs were rescued by state wildlife officials and taken to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage for care before arriving in Portland in December.  According to Osburn Eliot, climbing is a natural behavior for black bears.

“Black bears are known for their climbing ability,” Osburn Eliot said. “It’s wonderful to see Timber and Thorn growing into such confident bears.”

Care staff named the cubs in honor of their forest home and Portland’s major league soccer teams, the Timbers and Thorns. Eventually the youngsters will get to know the zoo’s adult black bears, Cubby and Dale, but for now they’re taking turns in the habitat. 

Osburn Eliot says visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the cubs can start by looking up in the trees.

“Both cubs like to climb, but Thorn is the bolder of the two,” Osburn Eliot said. “If you see one bear up higher than the other, that’s probably him.” 

Once abundant in nearly all of North America’s forested regions, black bears have lost much of their habitat and were extirpated from great swaths of their former range. But populations have been bouncing back over the past two decades: 60% of U.S. and Canadian states and provinces report growing numbers, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the bears’ current population trend as “increasing.”