Large carnivores ( such as cougar, wolf and grizzly bear) are typically excluded from rehab efforts. In 2007 NLWS and the BC Government came to a historic agreement to start a grizzly rehab pilot project.
The first two cubs came into care that first summer/fall and up to 2015 a total of 18 grizzly cubs were rehabilitated across BC. In the fall of 2015 IFAW did not renew the support agreement, due to other commitments.
NLWS and the BC Government agreed to carry on anyway. We are still gathering data and fine tuning protocols before declaring this project ready to go mainstream. We will continue to collect information and create policies and best practices that will allow others to follow our lead and offer options to orphaned grizzly cubs.
Is it safe to release human raised bears?
After 26 years and over 300 bears we simply have to say:
"Yes it is!"
Bear rehabilitation is happening in many parts of our world with great success. As long as policies and best management practices are followed the bears have no problem to reintegrate into a life in the wild.
After 10 years and 18 grizzly cubs we are confident that the same is true for grizzly’s
Will they not become habituated?
If handled correctly, young bears will not become habituated to humans. Their wild upbringing assists us in ensuring that they don't become habituated to humans. One of the first things that a wild bear mom has to teach her cubs is that other bears can be deadly to them. This fact helps the human caretaker to teach their cubs that other humans are not to be approached. The human bear mother, provides the nurturing care that young cubs need to develop mentally correctly while teaching them to avoid other humans. That means that ideally bear cubs have only one or two caregivers in their first few month of life. Once they are older and can be housed with conspecifics, others can help in the care as long as they have no contact with the bears.
What questions remain?
We are still working out best management practices, which includes housing, diets and handling of grizzly cubs. Our starting point was our black bear knowledge and we are working on adapting our policies and practices to reflect the best possible grizzly care.