LYME, N.H. (WCAX) Ben Kilham has been working with bears at his Lyme, New Hampshire, property for 25 years. But this year is one for the record books. He currently has 66 yearling bear cubs being rehabilitated back to good health at the Kilham Bear Center. It's the most he's ever had at one time.
"This has been an extraordinary year with no food," Kilham said.
Food the bears survive on like beechnuts, apples and berries. In some cases, the lack of food caused mothers to run out of milk and orphan their cubs and many of them end up here.
"Normally if it was a good year, there would be acorns and beechnuts left on the ground and the bears would feed them first. They always prefer to feed natural food," Kilham said.
Humans are also a part of the problem. Kilham and wildlife officials are encouraging homeowners to secure their properties as the seasons change. That includes taking down bird feeders and other attractions that may draw in an unwanted guest.
Kilham says the bears will be coming out of hibernation soon and they will be hungry.
"Bird feeders, garage, electric fences around chicken coops and beehives. Unprotected chickens are one of the biggest problems we have," Kilham said.
Kilham's work with black bears has been highlighted on the silver screen. A new Imax movie sent him to China where he also worked with pandas, as the film is aptly named.
Back in New Hampshire, Kilham is working to expand his nonprofit to include another enclosure, fearing that more abandoned cubs could be on the way.
"We are going to have spring cubs coming in real soon and don't have a place for them. And with two facilities and two enclosures, then we have a perfect mix," he said.
All of the bears on Kilham's property will be released back into the wild in New Hampshire and Vermont this spring. Which, Kilham says, is all the more reason for the public to do what it can so that bears can be bears.