Can the cubs of problem bears be rehabilitated after they witness their mother attacking a human? A wildlife facility in British Columbia aims to do exactly that.
There is evidence that the rehabilitation process actually works, resulting in young bears being returned to the wild, says John. J. Beecham, co-chair of the Human-Bear Conflicts Expert Team of the IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group.
“Hundreds of bears have been successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild worldwide, including some in British Columbia, Canada, and more than 60 grizzly bears in Europe,” he told reporters recently.
A study of more than 500 bears reared in rehab facilities was conducted by Beecham and his colleagues, finding that they behaved the same as wild bears once released.
The issue of living with large predators in the United States has been topical in the news recently, after a female bear was euthanized in Yellowstone National Park, and her two cubs sent to a zoo in Ohio.
The park service received a flood of pleas from the public, requesting that the cubs to sent to a rehabilitation facility instead. The problem is, however, that there are currently no such facilities available in the United States.
The facility in Canada focuses on the orphaned cubs of bears who interact with humans in undesirable ways. They do not take adult bears, for which the rehabilitation process is considered unlikely to be successful.
The process promotes unpleasant (but not cruel) experiences with humans, including veterinarian visits, and then the bears are released in remote areas, where it’s unlikely they will see humans for some time.
This usually prevents the bears becoming habituated to the presence of humans.
It is a slow process however, taking up to 18 months. “Grizzlies are different animals from black bears. We have found them to be way more intelligent and will become habituated to people if the rehabilitation techniques are not done right,” explained Northern Lights Wildlife Society founder Angelika Langen. The society monitors the movements of released bears with tracking collars, to make sure that the bears don’t get up to too much trouble.
Bear manager for Yellowstone National Park, Kerry Gunther, says employing a similar process in the park would be difficult. Not only is it a very expensive option, but it the high human population around the park would mean that bears would come into contact with people very soon after release.
What do you think of the concept of rehabbing cubs for release back into the wild?