Advocates are calling for three orphaned grizzly cubs, currently at the Calgary Zoo, to be rehabilitated and sent back to the wild instead of living in separate zoos.
In a letter signed by 73 scientists, educators and conservationists from Alberta, British Columbia and outside Canada, they requested that Alberta Fish and Wildlife release the cubs back to the wild.
“Our group respectfully requests that Alberta Fish and Wildlife consider rehabilitating and releasing these cubs into the Alberta wilderness to boost the province’s grizzly bear population rather than condemning these bears to long-term captive care,” said the letter.
When Alberta Fish and Wildlife picked up the cubs they contacted the Calgary Zoo and asked if they could take care of the cubs until they were ready for transport.
The cubs were found in early May after their mom was killed.
According to Canada Parks, there are less than 700 grizzly bears in Alberta and around 20,000 grizzlies in Western AB, the Yukon and Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
Calgary Zoo’s grizzly bears
The three grizzly cubs are receiving care at the Calgary Zoo by the animal care unit. Dr. Doug Whiteside, senior vet at the zoo said that the cubs have gained about 50 per cent more body weight and are engaging with their environment well.
“When the keepers are putting in their food or enrichments item, the cubs are right up against the mesh and watching,” said Dr. Whiteside.
They have no names and are being tested for their genders in the coming weeks.
Dr. Whiteside said that there’s one significantly bigger one that’s darker in colour. The smallest, who they believe to be a girl, is the feistiest one.
The Calgary Zoo currently houses two adult grizzly bears. They don’t have the space to be able to keep the three cubs. This is why they must be transported to other accredited facilities.
Rehabilitation of the grizzly bears
According to the advocacy group, the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, B.C. is the only place that has successfully rehabilitated 25 grizzly bears back into the wild since 2007.
There are rules around the interprovincial transport of the bears in order to get them to the B.C. facility.
But Dr. Whiteside said that “it’s too early in the science to actually see whether these bears actually make it past one year after release.”
The Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan of 2008 cited, “Of the 256 bears relocated between 1974 and 2002, there were 15 subsequent known deaths within a relatively short time after relocation (11 within one year of release and 4 between one and four years after release).”
The recovery plan also said that approximately 30 per cent of relocated bears die following relocation. These deaths may happened due to moving bears to unfamiliar habitats, being killed by resident male bears or continued human/bear conflicts.
Grizzly bear species recovery
Wildlife experts say that female grizzly bears typically don’t reproduce until they’re six years of age. They’ll only have one or two cubs every four years. This makes it difficult for the population to expand.
“We are removing genetic contributions to the population stability and that seems like a step backward in terms of where we’re trying to be with stabilizing grizzly bears in Alberta,” said Nissa Petterson, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
However, there is lots of evidence that animals raised in captivity do live longer than those in the wild. According to American Veterinarian, a Scientific Reports study confirmed that more than 80 per cent of the 59-mammal species analyzed lived longer in captivity. Other animals included cheetahs, monkeys, otters, lion, boars and goats.
“We know that these bears in an accredited zoo will receive a really good life and they have a chance to live, which is what we’re happy with,” said Dr. Whiteside.