Columbia Falls, Mont. - Two orphaned black bears got a late jump on hibernation but a new lease on life when they were placed in a man-made den last month.
hauled the tranquilized twin cubs by snowmobile, then tucked them
into the 20 below zero snow cave. If all goes well, they will slip
into hibernation, then emerge this spring and resume life on their
So far, 50 of 52 bears have been
successfully restored to the wild in a program run by the Montana
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Staffer John Fraley says if
not for the program, all the orphaned cubs probably would have
died. Bears become orphans when hunters illegally shoot their
mothers or they are struck by vehicles.
cubs - a 125-pound female and a 135-pound male - are older than
most foundlings. They were found on the South Fork of the Flathead
River after their mother was killed in the fall of 1992, too late
for that year's program. The pair was fattened up for a year along
with eight other cubs at the state's animal shelter in
Although the bear cubs at the shelter
come into contact with humans and are fed by them, they do not
become tame, says Vince Yannone of the state's conservation
education office in Helena. Yannone pioneered the program not only
to save orphan cubs, he says, but also to educate people about
bears. The program has been so successful that biologists are
considering using it to boost bear numbers in parts of the state
where bears are few and habitat is good.
never been tried with grizzly bears, though, since few orphaned
grizzly cubs are ever found. Vince Yannone can be reached at
Tad Brooks reports for
the Hungry Horse News in Montana.