Orphaned bear returns to wild

  • Jul. 25, 2012 4:00 p.m.

by Alex Rinfret–The young black bear huffed and sniffed the evening air as her cage door was opened, leaving her free to slip into the second growth forest of Graham Island. But she didn’t run out right away. Instead, she reached out with one paw, then another, hauling herself to the top of the wheeled bear trap where she had been confined for the all-day journey from the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers to Haida Gwaii. “She’s seeking out a high spot,” said Angelika Langen, the shelter’s founder and co-owner. We were in a remote spot off a logging road in central Graham Island, especially picked by Ministry of the Environment ecosystems biologist Alvin Cober for its distance from human settlements or activity. The 18-month-old ear-tagged bear was being released back into the wild after being rescued as a orphaned cub near Sandspit and raised for the past year at the wildlife shelter in Smithers. Angelika and her husband Peter Langen explained that climbing is an essential skill for young black bears, and that high spots are usually safe spots. This bear seemed quite happy with her spot on top of the trap and walked back and forth a bit, showing no signs of wanting to get down and explore the forest. As she turned and looked like she might be contemplating a jump into the bed of the pickup truck, Angelika started yelling and shaking her fist at the bear, telling it to get going. The bear clambered down the side of the trap and went back into it. Angelika, who had warned me that bear releases are often over in seconds, said she’d never seen anything like it in her 22 years of working with rescued bears and other wild animals. (See Senna released at www.facebook.com/haidagwaiiobserver)Eventually the bear poked her head out of the trap and then ran out, heading down an old logging road, then veering into the forest. She then climbed partway up a tree, where Angelika and Peter could still see her for a few minutes before we left. Heading back to Queen Charlotte, Angelika and Peter said they would not miss the little bear, which they had named Senna during its year living at the shelter. “It’s past the time, we’re happy,” Angelika said. “With kids, it’s the same thing. We raise them to be self-reliant adults.” She explained that bear-human contact is kept to an absolute minimum at the shelter so the bears will keep their natural fear of people and not seek them out once released. The shelter only accepts cubs, and raises them to the point where they can live on their own. Senna was the last of last year’s bears to be released, but Angelika and Peter would be going home to 10 new cubs. Most of them, Angelika said, end up at the shelter because of the “senseless killing” of the mother. Senna’s ear tag may provide information about what happens to her in the future. All the released bears are either eartagged or equipped with radio collars, giving researchers valuable information about bear behaviour. The biggest threat to Senna is likely aggressive male bears, but Angelika said she’s not especially worried about that. The big male bears are simply part of the natural world. “The way we see rehabilitation, it’s an opportunity to offset human impact,” Angelika said. Orphaned as a baby, Senna would likely not have survived in the wild. Now, just like any other 18-month old bear, she will go out on her own, rejoining the natural world.

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