The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Orphaned grizzly released back into the wild as part of B.C. pilot rehab project

  • Print

VANCOUVER - An orphaned grizzly cub named Littlefoot has been released back into the wild in southeastern British Columbia, part of a pilot project aimed at saving bears who have come out on the losing end of interactions with humans.

Conservation officers from the Ministry of Environment found the yearling severely undernourished this spring in an area where a bear was shot dead last year, leading authorities to believe it was his mother that was killed.

Littlefoot hibernated alone through last winter, emerging emaciated this spring.

In June, weighing just 22 kilograms, he was sent to the Northern Lights Wildlife Society, near Smithers, B.C. Three months and more than 40 kilograms later — almost triple what he weighed when he arrived — he was released in a remote area near Fernie on Tuesday.

"We had no problems with him. He settled in really well and showed no different behaviour than the other bears that we had in our care," said Angelika Langen, the co-founder and manager of the project.

"He was good with the caretaker and quite confident."

Like all grizzly graduates of the rehabilitation program, Littlefoot will wear a satellite collar for 18 months so his progress can be tracked.

Since it began in 2007, 13 grizzly cubs have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild. The chances for an orphaned cub without some help are not good.

"They either get shot or left out in the wild to fend for themselves, which means they either starve to death or they become prey for a predator," Langen said.

Ministry of Environment statistics show in B.C., 127 grizzlies have been killed by humans over the past three and a half years, not including sport hunting kills.

The B.C. Natural Resources Ministry said grizzly bears have been designated a species of special concern nationally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, though they are not endangered in the province.

Government biologists estimate about 15,000 grizzlies live in the westernmost province, which is home to about a quarter of the remaining North American population. Only Alaska has more.

Grizzly bears are also listed as threatened under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act.

The bears in Langen's program became orphaned after their parents were killed either in vehicle accidents or by humans who shot the animals in self defence.

Though the project has been running for years, it is still in pilot stage because it's unclear whether grizzlies raised by humans fare well in the wild.

So far, Langen said the results are encouraging.

Radio-collar tracking has shown only three of the 13 bruins released in the past seven years have died. They're tracked for 18 months, at which point the collars are designed to fall off to prevent the bear from choking as it grows.

Tests of dung samples also bode well, she said.

"The bears we have raised in human care have no problems finding the natural food that they need," Langen said. "Within a couple of days they have it all figured out."

Littlefoot almost immediately started looking for food, she said.

But the ultimate test of whether bears raised by humans succeed is whether they go on to have a family of their own.

"From a scientific point of view, that would be the ultimate proof that a bear that has been raised in human care can adapt well enough to survive in the wild and then even reproduce."

Unfortunately, the wildlife society has not been able to document any offspring. They've only had two females and lost contact with both in the wild, one because of technical difficulties and the other because of inaccessible terrain, Langen said.

One major challenge for the program is ensuring cubs do not become dependent on humans.

To that end, each is assigned a caregiver and only that person interacts with the bruin. Any other interaction with humans, such as a veterinarian visit, is designed to ensure the bears remain afraid of humans.

"They get chased, they get poked — it's not something pleasant," Langen said.

On average, each bear costs between $3,000 and $4,000 to rehabilitate.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version included incorrect information for the bear's weight, details of the bear's capture and the wrong year the program began.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Gail Asper says museum honours her father’s vision

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
my2011poy
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should the Canadian Museum for Human Rights use the word 'genocide' in exhibits on Indian residential schools?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google