Your piece on orphaned bear cubs (Eagle, Sept. 20) sounded unbelievable and persuaded me to do some research. Until recently, the two cubs now being cared for at the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) would have been shot. Now it seems they could simply be sentenced to a probable death because of some ill conceived notions coming from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).
What are they thinking to be declaring a release date of Oct. 11?
• Bear cubs, born in late winter or early spring, are normally with their mothers for at least a year and are clearly not independent at eight to nine months.
• The planned release would toss them out just as their first winter is coming on when their mothers would teach them how to den and be with them.
• Fall is a serious time for adults putting on weight for the winter, adding an an added risk for fall release.
• I am told peer reviewed studies indicate that cubs that over winter with their mothers have a survival rate approaching 90per cent; survival for cubs heading into winter on their own is roughly 30 per cent. Should this be a surprise to anyone?
What about the skills and logic at AEP?
• According to the Eagle article, CEI has repeatedly sought clarification for AEP’s alleged new eight-month release protocol.
• After stone-walling for months, AEP recently said it was “working on compiling the data used in deciding the release date for the bears.” Great. Declare the policy and then scrabble around to create data to support the policy. What analysis could that be? Interviews in the spring with survivors?
• Apparently some wildlife centres in B.C. do fall releases, but early release from Northern Lights, the only wildlife centre quoted, is conditional. They only release cubs that are deemed to have adequate weight. Northern Lights has taken the early release idea from discussion with other centres (not through research). Northern Lights is a very busy operation that would have difficulty over-wintering all the cubs it cares for.
• The notion of habituation with humans resulting from keeping cubs through the winter is curious. CEI has over-wintered many cubs in the past in on-site dens. The bears are hibernating, not hanging out with CEI staff.
• Apparently, CEI covers all costs of caring for the cubs until release and has decades of practical experience. They have also won awards from the Alberta Government. What could the motivation be for a few provincial bureaucrats trying to pontificate about early release dates without any credible rationale?
• Finally, according to the Eagle article, Mr Simieritsch of AEP, having declared the early release date without demonstrable rationale, then told the Eagle that CEI was their “partner.”
The principle of whether orphaned wildlife should be killed is perhaps a legitimate topic.
What is offensive in this instance is having uninformed public servants trying to push around skilled, qualified people who, on their own, are doing sensible, positive things for wildlife.