A small black bear from Manitoba that became a lightning rod for controversy has been released into the wild.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/6/2012 (3377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Makoon the bear has been released back into the wild.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Makoon the bear has been released back into the wild.

A small black bear from Manitoba that became a lightning rod for controversy has been released into the wild.

However, an animal advocate who led the ultimately failed fight to get the black bear sent to a sanctuary said she’ll now be stepping up her efforts on behalf of other animals. The province announced Tuesday that the bear – known as Makoon to animal advocates – had been flown to an unspecified remote location, along with a second bear that had also been cared for at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Thousands of people from around the world had signed a petition asking the province not to release the bear into the wild, after it was found in a ditch near St. Malo this March.

In recent weeks, attention on the bear’s release had ramped up as the animal lived in the zoo, growing in size for its eventual release.

"The government should be charged for cruelty to animals. We’re backward, backward when it comes to animals," said Judy Stearns, who created a Facebook page called Save Bear Cub Makoon, which became a hub for those interested. Stearns had been part of a protest waged outside the zoo last week calling attention to the bear’s release, at an age and size advocates considered to be vulnerable.

"Now, this is just a start," she said. "This is not over... I am going to keep going with this and push for changes."

By last week, Stearns said there were about 10,000 people who had signed the petition.

Bill McDonald, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society, also lambasted the decision.

"They haven’t acted in the best interests of the bear cub Makoon," said McDonald.

The Canadian Humane Society had also launched a petition focusing on the bear before it was released – and said the decision to release the bears defied "common sense and science."

"Imagine releasing two terrified bear cubs, unable to defend themselves, into the wilderness, without food or shelter, to a short-lived cruel existence. In doing so, the premier has also triggered serious collective and individual potential liabilities for his government under wildlife and cruelty to animal laws which means accountability and consequences for those involved," said the Canadian Humane Society’s website.

A media release sent out by Manitoba Conservation Tuesday afternoon said both bears weighed more than 30 pounds when they were released.

Jim Duncan, director of the wildlife branch for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, said he wasn’t identifying the location where they went.

"I think the chances of encountering those bears are slim to none, and that’s the intent of course," he said.

The animals showed "a number of instinctive behaviours including the ability to locate food on their own," said a Manitoba Conservation release.

"Wildlife biologists who surveyed the area before the bears were released found a wide variety of plentiful food sources including eggs, fish and berries," said the release. "The area is very remote, which will reduce the chances of either bear coming into contact with humans in the future."

The release said the bears were in "excellent condition" and were "quite large for their age."

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca