Calgary

Orphaned bear cubs can be kept in rehab centre over winter, province decides

The Alberta government has decided to allow a wildlife rehabilitation centre to keep two orphaned bear cubs over the winter, after first insisting the animals must be released into the wild this fall.

Bears still too young to survive in the wild, head of rehabilitation facility argues

Maskwa, left, and Charlie, right, are being rehabilitated at the Cochrane Ecological Institute. (Submitted by the Cochrane Ecological Institute)

The Alberta government has decided to allow a wildlife rehabilitation centre to keep two orphaned black bear cubs over the winter, after first insisting the animals must be released into the wild this fall.

The Cochrane Ecological Institute, a non-profit wildlife facility, took in the two cubs — Charlie and Maskwa — after the province lifted a ban in the spring that had been in place since 2010.

The new policy allows wildlife staff to work with private facilities on the rehabilitation of cubs that are less than a year old.

The institute had been told the bears must be released by Oct. 15.

Institute president Clio Smeeton had pressured the province to allow the institute to keep the cubs over the winter, arguing that they were still too young and vulnerable and hadn't yet learned how to find a suitable den site.

Charlie climbs in a tree at the Cochrane Ecological Institute's bear enclosure. (Submitted by the CEI)

After a meeting on Tuesday, Smeeton says the early snowfall changed the minds of provincial officials.

"These cubs will be released in 2019. And hopefully, if everything goes well, over the winter we'll be able to discuss with them how that release is going to be brought about," she said.

Smeeton says if the bears can hibernate over the winter, they will have a greater chance of surviving when they are released into the wild next year.

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