Bear lift: Rescued grizzly bears return to the wild in BC pilot project

Sunday, June 26, 2011
British Columbia
Four yearling Grizzly bears orphaned in British Columbia’s Bella Coola Valley in 2010 have been rehabilitated and are on the road – and flight -- back to freedom. The cubs named Drew, Jason, Lori and Dean were rescued last year after their mothers were killed. They are being transported by truck from Smithers, BC and will be air-lifted by helicopter into their new habitat near Owikeno Lake.

The rescue, transport and release of the Grizzlies is part of a unique cooperative pilot project between the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org), the Northern Lights Wildlife Society (NLWS – www.wildlifeshetler.com) and the British Columbia Ministries of Environment, and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The project will study whether releasing orphaned Grizzlies is viable. This is only the third time such a release has taken place. Two bears were released in July of 2008  and two in the summer of 2009.

“This project is pioneering the rehabilitation and reintroduction of Grizzly bears to the wild,” said Angelika Langen, NLWS Director. “We are thrilled to give Lori, Dean, Drew and Jason a second chance at life and we eagerly await the opportunity to help many more Grizzlies.”  

The bears have spent the last seven months at NLWS’s rehabilitation centre. They will travel by road on June 24, 2011 from Smithers to Bella Coola inside four individual culvert traps on a flatbed truck. A helicopter will then be used to transport the immobilized bears, two at a time, to the release site by the Owikeno Lake on June 25, 2011. The release area is within the traditional territory of the Wuikinuxv First Nation, who support the release of the cubs and their monitoring within their territory.

“All of the bears have been custom fit with satellite collars that will allow us to track their daily movements for months to come,” said John Beecham, bear specialist with IFAW. “We are optimistic that these bears will not only survive but thrive in the wild.”

Given the ongoing human-bear conflict situation in Bella Coola, a release site for these four bears has been identified to the South, in the easternmost area of Owikeno Lake. “We chose this area because it is currently closed to Grizzly bear hunting, and is ecologically parallel to Bella Coola where the bears were found,” said Tony Hamilton, biologist from the BC Ministry of Environment.

A public meeting to discuss various approaches to reducing human-bear conflict in the Bella Coola Valley will follow the release. A variety of preventative measures will be promoted to prevent recurrence of the unfortunate events that resulted in these cubs becoming orphaned.

Rehabilitating orphan bear cubs is being viewed by IFAW as a more sustainable and humane alternative than killing the bears outright. Similar bear rehabilitation projects are being supported by IFAW in Russia and India.

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