The Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers is travelling across B.C. this month to deliver rehabilitated bears back into their natural habitats.
Five young grizzlies made their journey back to the Bella Coola area this week, where they were returned by helicopter to the wild.
The grizzlies named Cedar, Muwin, Arthur, Raven and Isa were left orphaned but became the best of friends during their stay at the wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Their mothers were euthanized as a result of attractants.
“We’re the only ones that return rehabbing or rewilding grizzly bears,” said co-founder and current manager Angelika Langen.
“We also now have a scientist that will follow them for what we hope will be five years with the four females, and we’re hoping that during that time all of them or at least some of them will have their own young and total integration into the wild.”
A total of 36 black bears from across the province will also be released in June.
Orphaned sisters Clara and Heidi from the Williams Lake area, as well as Alex from Alexis Creek, were in poor condition when they had arrived at the society last April.
“It’s going to be a real joy to return them into the wild again,” said Langen.
“They always go back to into the communities that they came from because we don’t want to mix genetics, and we don’t want to mess up population numbers of the areas as well.”
Before being released the animals must be healthy, able to climb and not show any inclination to interact with humans.
Langen said it would be this time of year that the young bears — genetically primed to start a life of their own — would naturally leave their mothers.
The leading cause of death for wild bears is human interaction, while for rehabbed or rewilded bears it is predation.
“We can’t teach them what a cougar is or what another bear can do, and that is a drawback for them, but in the end it’s about 51 per cent that survive, and that’s the same when they’re leaving their mother,” Langen said.
As of the end of May, eight bears were already in the care of the animal rescue, as well as a porcupine, a few squirrels and a baby moose that was rescued from drowning in a river near Prince George.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in fewer volunteers for the Northern Lights Wildlife Society that would typically attract in-person help from around the world.
“We’re looking forward to things getting back to more normal again,” Langen added.