Peninsula bear cub finds home in Minnesota zoo

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A brown bear cub orphaned after a sow was shot in defense of life and property in Seward has been rescued for placement in a Minnesota zoo. For the next 12 months, however, Kenai Peninsula residents will have a chance to bid the cub farewell at a wildlife center in Portage Valley where it is being cared for until it moves to Russia’s Grizzly Coast, a new exhibit the Minnesota zoo is building.

A man hunting grouse with his dog shot the cub’s mother when the sow charged him last month. The shooting left the cub, known as Kenai, and his two siblings orphaned. When homes cannot be found for orphaned cubs, Alaska Department of Fish and Game policies require the cubs be euthanized.

Without a sow to teach cubs how to den or fend for themselves in the wild, cubs soon look to residences for food, create safety hazards, and risk dying inhumanly, resource managers say.

For about ten days after they were orphaned, Fish and Game searched for Kenai and his two siblings, and just as predicted the cubs began appearing around residences. Two of the cubs where euthanized, but Kenai was darted to fill the Minnesota zoo’s request for a brown bear.

Kenai is one of just three orphaned Alaska cubs that have been lucky enough to have found one of the few caretakers willing to make the long-term commitment required to care for a brown bear.

“What we find in captivity, is brown bears can live 25 to 30 years,” said Diana Weinhardt, director of conservation and wildlife programs at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where Kenai is being sheltered until he is sent to Minnesota. “It really is a long-term commitment, longer than people make to their kids sometimes.”

In addition, a trend toward providing bigger and better exhibits for captive animals has increased the costs of caring for the animals, a trend that creates better living conditions for captive bears, but makes placing the animals more difficult.

Kenai will settle into his new home after the Minnesota zoo completes the Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit and welcomes him and the two other rescued Alaska cubs. In the meantime, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has taken on the hefty commitment to care for the cubs until they can be sent to their permanent home.

“When they’re younger it’s a huge time investment,” Weinhardt said, referring to the three rescued cubs, Kenai, Sadie and Haines, named for landmarks near to where each was rescued. “Right now even though they’re seven, eight months old they’re still getting fed three times a day.”

“You have to consider too, that in the wild these animals are with their mothers for three years,” she said, emphasizing how needy and vulnerable brown bears are early in their lives.

As fall sets in, the center is trying to plump the cubs up, feeding them an expensive diet of powdered formula, puppy chow, salmon and fresh produce, such as apples and carrots.

“We’re not really sure if they are going to den up like wild bears do, or not,” Weinhardt said. “If they choose to do that, they’ll be ready. If they don’t, our philosophy at the wildlife center is if they are awake we feed them.”

Kenai is the smallest of the three cubs being sheltered at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

The wildlife center is open to visitors from 9:10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The center’s exhibits also include wood and plains bison, moose, elk, caribou, black and grizzly bears, musk ox, Sitka Black-tailed deer, lynx, coyotes, foxes, and birds of prey.Visitor fees range from $5 to $7.50 per person.

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