WINNIPEG -- A rescued baby bear named Makoon may someday romp again through the forests of Manitoba.

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WINNIPEG -- A rescued baby bear named Makoon may someday romp again through the forests of Manitoba.

Conservation officials have backtracked on an earlier decision that the celebrity cub would not be rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

That's now their goal.

"For any wildlife, the right thing to do is release it back, keep it wild, keep it natural," Barry Verbiwski, head of the problem wildlife management unit with Manitoba Conservation, said Wednesday.

"We're hopeful this will have a very positive outcome... we're just doing due diligence with the best interest of the cub at heart."

He said one option was having the bear destroyed, but that's not being considered -- in part due to the animal's growing fan base.

"The bear cub has become quite a celebrity, and we've received numerous phone calls."

Makoon, an eight-week old black bear, was rescued last month by retired construction worker Rene Dubois.

Dubois found the starving ball of fur in a ditch along the highway near St. Malo, about 70 kilometres south of Winnipeg. He took the cub home and phoned a conservation officer, who said the animal would be destroyed.

So Dubois decided to keep Makoon at home, nurse him back to health and find him another home.

He found luck with the Bear With Us sanctuary in Sprucedale, Ont. Owner Mike McIntosh said he had approval from the Ontario government to bring the bear into the province for rehabilitation, as long as the animal could be released next summer back where it came from.

Verbiwski said conservation staff are discussing the situation with Ontario officials and trying to reach wildlife staff in Alberta and British Columbia to find out if the same rule applies to rehabilitating out-of-province animals there.

There are no rehabilitation facilities for bears in Manitoba.

Makoon was taken from the Dubois family home Tuesday and moved to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. Zoo officials say they don't have room to keep the cub, but he can stay there until someone else agrees to take him.

Verbiwski said another zoo or sanctuary may agree to give Makoon a permanent home, but the priority is to find a place that will rehabilitate and release him.

He said Manitoba Conservation initially balked at the idea of having Makoon released at home, because it was believed he'd had too much human contact. Hundreds of people visited Makoon at the Dubois home, cuddling him and taking photos.

When staff did some research, Verbiwski said, they realized the cub is so young he hasn't been affected by all of the attention.


-- The Canadian Press