Seward, Alaska – A happy outcome may be in sight for the black bear cub of the year whose mother was shot, and presumably killed by Seward Police last week in the Spring Creek parking area.
Tony Kavalok, Assistant Director for the Wildlife Conservation Division of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game said his department was still working Monday to find a suitable facility for the cub. It is working with Fortress of the Bears, a relatively new bear sanctuary in Sitka that is willing to accept the black bear cub, to determine whether that facility meets the state’s standards required to allow it a permit to accept the bear.
The department is yet to determine that the facility is secure enough, he said, but had sent the area biologist over there to check it out, and is exchanging information with the facility. One concern, for example, was that the black bear could be an attractant for a wild brown bear, or feral dogs wandering the perimeters of the Sitka facility, Kavalok said.
Currently, the facility houses five brown bears, but it would be willing to accept the black bear cub, at least until or unless another permanent home could be located, said Evy Kinnear, who founded the 501©3 non-profit education and rescue center along with her husband Les. The facility has housed bears since 2007, and each bear’s habitat is three-quarters of an acre in size. They only have brown bears now as that’s the kind of bear found on Sitka, but as it’s an educational facility, they wouldn’t mind showing tourists a black bear as well, she said.
The staff at Fortress of the Bears is doing all they can do to meet the state’s required criteria, she said, and they don’t believe security around the perimeter is a problem as no wild bears have ever visited the property to her knowledge—even when their female bear is in estrus. But, that’s ADF&G’s decision, she said.
The local media story of the bear cub took on a life of its own across Alaska and Outside via the internet and social media. The small cub’s night-time capture at Spring Creek also was filmed for an episode of the Alaska State Trooper’s television series.
One website, Examiner.com hyped the story, giving the cub the name “Baby Smokey” and called for readers to phone the Alaska representatives and the State of Alaska and Kenai wildlife refuge on behalf of the cub who had just hours left to live. A Good Samaritan offered to fund the bear’s transport to its new location.
The story put added pressure on the state agency in what would have normally been an uneventful death for the abandoned cub, who would otherwise have had little chance of survival on its own.
What many people don’t realize is that there are 45-46 states with black bears, Kavalok said, and a lot of those, particularly western states, have a tough time locating facilities for their own bears. Permanent long-term facilities are in short supply everywhere.
Two or three staff members, including a wildlife biologist, volunteers and interns help run the Fortress of the Bears during the winter, and even more staff it during the summer tourist season when visitors drop by to see the bears, and get an education on Alaska wildlife. The staff collects about 200-300 pounds of recycled fish and produce per day from individual donations, local supermarkets and restaurants, and from local fish hatchery and canneries, Kinnear said. There’s a recycling center and farm on the premises, and a small petting zoo.