UPDATED - VIDEO: Free At Last, Canadian Grizzly Cub Tracking Begins

UPDATE: 9.26.11

After two months of good and steady information, the satellite tracking info started showing that Jason suddenly separated from Drew. As there was some movement coming from Jason’s collar, we considered an actual separation but then lost contact for a couple days. When contact came back, the data coming in from Jason was in the same 30 meter area with very slight movements: something was very wrong.

The movement could be contributed to different satellites picking up the data or to scavengers moving stuff around. Fearing the worst, Angelika and Peter from our partners at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society (NLWS) rushed to Bella Coola and hired a helicopter to fly over the signaling collar. With great relief, the team saw no signs of a dead bear! But retrieving the collar would be a challenge because it dropped off in the worst possible place. It looked like Jason got his collar off on the top of a mountain and it rolled into a very steep area – so steep that only a professional climber with ropes and climbing equipment would be needed to retrieve it.

On September 2nd, we received more “Oh, no!” news. It looked like Drew dropped his collar too. The only up-side was that this time it looked like his collar was in a much more accessible area.

There are several reasonable explanations for why the collars may have come off. A likely one is that when placing the collars, enough space was given to allow for bear growth and the fact that the bears might have now lost some weight with the increase of exercise sustained during long hours spent foraging for food, could have resulted in a collar loose enough to come off. Unfortunately, unless we get them back, we just won’t know.

Organizing an expedition to retrieve the lost collars has proven to be extremely difficult. A volunteer has offered his climbing and telemetry knowledge, but scheduling between his work, Angelika and Peter’s commitments, the helicopter schedule and the disintegrating weather is proving to be an ongoing challenge.

The good news is that Lori and Dean are sending strong and steady signals! Dean is at the river fishing and Lori is pretty much hanging out in one general area. We suspect that Lori is staying away from the rivers because that is where all the big males try to catch fish. It’s a prime feeding area and subdominant bears will avoid areas with lots of bears, particularly big males.Working with the British Columbia government, we’ll be getting information on food availability in the areas that the bears have frequented. I’ll keep everyone posted.

Gail A'Brunzo

IFAW Emergency Relief Officer

Grizzly Bear Release Update

22 July, 2011

The release of the four bears went without a hitch. Lori and Dean went first and in fact it was quite dramatic to see the bears in nets being lifted by helicopter. The pilot lowered them down without even a bump. Then it was Drew and Jason’s turn and they were released in a slightly different place in Bella Coola.

The satellite collars are working well and the bears’ movements are checked daily.

Jason and Drew started out traveling together continue to stick close to each other. Lori and Dean separated immediately and went their separate ways.

All the bears seem to doing well and have moved from the valleys to areas around 1200 meters above sea level close to the snowline, although Jason and Drew have begun to come down the other side of the mountain they went over.

They are spending time in specific areas before moving on to the next – normal grizzly bear behavior which is what we like to see!

UPDATE: 19 July:

Dean made a drastic change in his travel pattern and swam the lake and is now near a large mountain at 1400 meters.

He traveled pretty rapidly out of his area, so I guess he encountered some trouble. Maybe it was a territory dispute?

Gail A'Brunzo

ORIGINAL POST

On Saturday, the International Fund for Animal Welfare joined partners Northern Lights Wildlife Society (NLWS) and the BC Ministry of Environment to release four rehabilitated orphan grizzly bears in Canada.

This was our third grizzly release but by far our most complex one. It involved double the numbers of bears, a much longer trans-location and many logistical challenges along the way.

Watch bear expert Dr. John Beecham talk about this particular move and see some of the logistical challenges the team faced.

As you read in previous blog posts, the four bears: Lori, Dean, Jason, Drew had arrived to the NLWS shelter several months ago needing immediate care to survive their traumatic ordeal. Looking at them now, it's easy to forget their troubled past.

"They are huge!" exclaimed our bear expert Dr. John Beecham. John has seen his share of bears in the past 35 years. He has traveled to all corners of the world to work in bear-human conflict issues and bear rehabilitation projects.

One look was all he needed to know that the bears looked great. "Yes they are big, not fat, just very big, about two or three times as much as their wild counterparts, but that's not a bad thing" he said.

Dr. John Beecham with one of the tranqulized Canadian grizzly cubs.

Then he explained in detail how bears grow faster when they have a constant food supply while under captivity but once they are released those extra reserves will give them a head start as they learn how to be wild again.

There will be less pressure to get in optimal shape ahead of months of hibernation and, gradually after two or three years, they will likely be even in size and weight to wild grizzlies.

The move was full of challenges, we had unpredictable weather, a 16-hour transport by land and a final air journey to the release site - all along having the responsibility of four very stressed-out 300+lb bears.

Not surprisingly, the highlight of the operation was the last push to freedom, a dramatic airlift and release of the bears back to the wild. And what a location to call home! The Bella Coola valley is a breathtaking setting.

Snow-capped mountains, pine trees as far as the eye can see, lakes, rivers - yes, rivers full of salmon for the grizzlies and shrubs full of berries, a pristine and isolated environment, miles from the closest human.

I was in very good company aboard the helicopter. First of all our expert pilot who during the boreal summers flies helicopters in the Arctic, had plenty of polar bear experience, not bad for a summer job eh?

Drew Milne, a British Columbia Conservation Officer was there to guarantee we were all safe, grizzlies and humans. It was evident that he had a soft spot for Drew the grizzly, named after him after protecting the bear when he was just a newly orphaned cub and making a call to Angelika and Peter who manage the NLWS shelter. You could sense his joy as we all watched his grizzly namesake slowly waking up from his anesthesia, free at last.

Our other companion was Peter Langen. Peter was the keeper of the bears for all these months and as expected it was a bitter-sweet moment for him. He was of visibly happy and excited but also concerned for their safety.

At the end of the operation he urged the helicopter to make on more turn into the valley in which we had dropped off siblings Lori and Dean. This was not just to get a second photo op, it was to see if Lori was up and about, we had left her breathing regularly but showing very little body motion.

Our heart stopped for a few seconds there when we hovered around Lori, still in the same location where we left her. We all started drawing the worst of conclusions when suddenly as the helicopter lowered and kicked up sand and wind beneath us, Lori jumped up looked directly at us as if saying 'leave me alone already'.

Jubilation broke the silence over the helicopter intercom with a single message: 'she's fine - they are all fine' time now for them to be alone.

Well, not completely alone, we are still keeping a close eye on them.

In fact, a satellite up in space helps us pinpoint their exact location and track their movement every 4 hours for the next year and a half! All four grizzlies are fitted with satellite collars so stay tuned and remember to visit IFAW.org for updates on how they are all doing.

-- MB

For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world, visit http://www.ifaw.org

Grizzly Bear Release Update

22 July, 2011

 

The release of the four bears went without a hitch. Lori and Dean went first and in fact it was quite dramatic to see the bears in nets being lifted by helicopter. The pilot lowered them down without even a bump. Then it was Drew and Jason’s turn and they were released in a slightly different place in Bella Coola.

 

The satellite collars are working well and the bears’ movements are checked daily. Jason and Drew started out traveling together continue to stick close to each other. Lori and Dean separated immediately and went their separate ways. All the bears seem to doing well and have moved from the valleys to areas around 1200 meters above sea level close to the snowline, although Jason and Drew have begun to come down the other side of the mountain they went over. They are spending time in specific areas before moving on to the next – normal grizzly bear behavior which is what we like to see!

 

UPDATE: Yesterday (19 July), Dean made a drastic change in his travel pattern and swam the lake and is now near a large mountain at 1400 meters.  He traveled pretty rapidly out of his area, so I guess he encountered some trouble. Maybe it was a territory dispute?

 

Gail

Comments: 60

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

Oh wow! OH WOW!!! Look what you did!! I'm not sure if I've ever been happier to give away money. Hopefully next time I can give a bigger donation. You put my money where your mouth is, and I couldn't be happier! Good job! Very good job!

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

Noble effort but my first thoughts are they won't survive 6 months. Too many hunters, shoot anything that moves. I'm afraid this is a death sentence for these innocent animals. Even though human interaction was minimized I think they will still associate humans with being a food source.

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

Thank you soooooo much!!!!

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

it worries me too. a lot.
susan saari

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

i canot tell if all four bears stayed together after their release?
it appears that the siblings did.
please let me know
and... as they grow how will the position of the collars affect them? Will it impede swallowing and breathing etc?
Curious Suze

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

At last something great to cry about. A wonderful and inspiring story and guys like you put my faith back in mankind. Thank you again for the patience, time and resources this took to return them back to the wild after such a horrible start in life. Thank you.

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

I know you are careful, but please explain how safe it is for a bear to wear a collar. Does brush get stuck in it, or could the bear choke while eating, or any other mishap? Does the collar give the bear a stiff neck or make relaxed sleep difficult? Could it get one paw stuck in the collar? What if the bear gets too fat? You would not want to wear a collar. EMS, Ks.

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

This post is dated nearly a week ago, and yet I don't see that new blog posts have been made. What is the status of the bears now? The video makes it appear that the bears were dropped off in isolation from each other. Why was this decision made, especially given their prior trauma? Bears in pairs, at least, would fare better for support. I'm very concerned about the back to back rounds of tranquilizers and how this affects their ability to hunt - was food left for them to get a headstart and address dehydration and to help offset chemical residual affects of the drugs. Good intentions, but what is the research that substantiates this effort?

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

Thank you for your dedication and commitment to these bears. It's just incredible.

 
Anonymous
3 years ago

Congratulations on this and other successes, not only for the animals involved but for also assembling such a team of concentrated people. Too few members of humanity will take the time/make the effort to help the animal world that every day is encroached upon by the sprawl of urbanity. Heartfelt Thank You to all.

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