JUST 11 weeks ago, a bear cub was held and bottle-fed by a retired construction worker, who found the black ball of fur in a ditch near St. Malo.

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This article was published 13/6/2012 (3382 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press 
Rene Dubois gestures to a photo quilt his family made of Makoon's stay with them.

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press Rene Dubois gestures to a photo quilt his family made of Makoon's stay with them.

JUST 11 weeks ago, a bear cub was held and bottle-fed by a retired construction worker, who found the black ball of fur in a ditch near St. Malo.

But now that bear is older and heavier, and growing steadily at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

The five-month-old bear is at the centre of a controversy, as about 50 protesters gathered outside the zoo Wednesday night to rally for the animal to be sent to a sanctuary, not released into the wild.

And the man who found the cub was there.

"We had him for nine days and I used to get up in the night and feed him with a bottle," said Rene Dubois, who found the bear -- named Makoon -- on March 25.

"I want them to keep him until he's old enough, so he can defend himself."

Judy Stearns set up a Facebook group called Save Bear Cub Makoon, an online petition that supports releasing the bear only when it reaches 18 months of age.

Mike deal / free press archives
Makoon in early April before being sent to the city zoo.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mike deal / free press archives Makoon in early April before being sent to the city zoo.

She said there's a spot at an Ontario sanctuary for the bear, a better option than being released in the wild where she believes he has "next-to-no chance of survival."

"It's not just because he's a cute, cuddly bear cub," said Stearns.

"I don't like to see any living being... tossed out into the wild to suffer by our own government."

The online petition had almost 11,000 people signed up by Wednesday night.

At the rally, supporters crowded outside the zoo's entrance with signs pleading "Why make him suffer?" and "Death sentence."

Jim Duncan, director of the wildlife branch for Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, said the bear is healthy, weighing in at about 30 pounds.

"The zoo can handle the bear to a certain point, but can't maintain a bear of a larger size," Duncan said.

Conservation officials are reaching a point where a decision needs to be made on the bear's future.

Finding a permanent home for the bear is tricky because Canadian zoos and other accredited institutions are at capacity, he said, because "black bears are common in Canada."

Releasing the bear also presents challenges.

"We're concerned that if the bear is conditioned to humans and has lost its fear of humans, when it's released it would not be afraid of people and that would be a bad situation for the bear and a bad situation for humans.

"But Manitoba is fortunate in that, unlike other jurisdictions, we still have some areas where we could release a bear and the chance of an encounter with a human is slim to none."

He said Conservation is very aware of the public's concern for the bear.

"The enthusiasm for which people have expressed their concern... I admire their passion and I hope they'd consider helping out their local (animal) rehabilitation centre, because they are phenomenal," he said.

"They receive 10,000 calls a year, dealing with injured and orphan wildlife, and they would benefit from people's consideration."

 

-- with files from Jason Bell

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca