An Alberta wildlife rehabilitation group is celebrating a government decision to keep two orphaned black bear cubs at its facility through the winter, instead of releasing them into the wild this fall.
The cubs arrived at the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) earlier this year. The Alberta government had planned for them to be released by mid-October, despite concerns raise by the CEI that the cubs would be vulnerable to predators since they are without their mothers.
However, on Tuesday, CEI President Clio Smeeton said the province told her that the plan had changed and the bears would be able to stay through the winter. She said officials told her the decision was made because of the early stretch of winter weather in the region.
WATCH: Take a look at Maskwa, an orphaned black bear cub taken in by the Cochrane Ecological Institute. She is the second black bear cub allowed to be rehabilitated in the province since the ban was lifted on April 18, 2018.
“If we had let them go now, they would have had even less than a 30 per cent chance of survival,” Smeeton said Wednesday.
“If we over-winter them, their chances of survival will improve by 50 per cent.”
The province started to allow licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities in Alberta to accept orphaned black bear cubs this year. The bears are supposed to be released on or before of Oct. 15 during the year they arrived at the centre, unless there’s special approval given for them to stay.
A statement released Thursday from Alberta Environment and Parks said the government “takes the rehabilitation of wildlife seriously.”
“The government will work with the CEI over the winter to monitor the bears and to ensure that every action aligns with evidence and best practice,” the statement read.
“There is an opportunity to use this experience to study the over-wintering and spring release that will add to research and improve best practice moving forward.“
The cubs will likely sleep in a man-made insulated den this summer, before waking up in the spring, according to Smeeton. She added that her group hopes the government releases the cubs under optimal conditions in the spring.
“I hope that they will say April, weather permitting, and they choose a place where there’s no hunting because it’s the spring bear hunt,” Smeeton said.
“Every individual is important and especially when we don’t know what the population of black bears is in Alberta.”