A New Hampshire bear sanctuary has seen a rise in abandoned and starving cubs after a fall famine and a long winter.
The Kilham Bear Center is hoping some community donations will help them build another facility on the property to make room for the record number of bears.
"I've never seen it this bad," said Dr. Ben Kilham.
Kilham has traveled the world rehabilitating bears, and each one steals a piece of his heart. Today, it's Shelly.
"The first thing she did was crawl up my chest, look me in the eyes, and give me a kiss on the lips," Kilham said. "It was like, 'Take care of me.' I mean, what can you say?"
Shelly is still bottle feeding and hanging out in Kilham's living room.
But outside, in a separate building, there are dozens of cubs that have spent the winter at the Kilham Bear Center and are ready to be released into the wild.
"The reality is, if we didn't take them, they were dead bears," Kilham said.
He usually rescues about 10 cubs a year, but since last fall, he's rehabilitated nearly 70 bears, and that number is growing daily.
While shooting this story Thursday, a New Hampshire Fish and Game biologist pulled up to Kilham's Lyme home with a starving bear cub. The 16-month-old should weigh about 50 pounds, but only weighs six pounds. He's proof that the fall famine is still taking a toll.
"Last year, there was no natural food," Kilham said. "No beech nuts, no acorns, hardly any apples."
Kilham says mother bears were leaving their cubs to search for food and never making it back to care for them.
"An awful lot of mothers got killed on the interstate," Kilham explained. "And people were seeing cubs in the median."
The sanctuary is now at capacity.
To make room for more cubs, Kilham is retrofitting a brand new shed and raising money to build another facility.
In 25 years, he's never cared for so many animals at one time.
"It's been an interesting adventure," Kilham said.
But more work means more satisfaction on the day Kilham sends his beloved cubs back home.
"It's a happy day," he said. "Bears want to be bears and they want to be in their own environment."
The Kilham Bear Center was recently recognized as a 501c3 non-profit, which means Kilham can accept donations to help the bears.
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