The future of a fuzzy little cubby is coming under scrutiny, as fans of an orphaned black bear push to send him to a special sanctuary.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/5/2012 (3422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Makoon with René Dubois

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Makoon with René Dubois

The future of a fuzzy little cubby is coming under scrutiny, as fans of an orphaned black bear push to send him to a special sanctuary.

More than 6,400 people have signed an online petition calling on the Manitoba government to deliver Makoon, a baby black bear found dying in a ditch in March, to the Bear With Us sanctuary in southwest Ontario. There, or so the plan goes, the cub would receive about a year of rehabilitation before being returned to Manitoba at the height of berry season in 2013.

Makoon

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Makoon

By that time, Makoon could weigh north of 150 pounds. "When he's got the size and body mass, it makes him less susceptible to being preyed on by other predators such as a lynx or a wolf," said Bear With Us president Mike McIntosh, adding the cub would also be less likely to starve and return to human-occupied areas in search of food.

The plan would come at no cost to the province, after AirSprint Private Aviation pledged to fly the bruin there on the company's own dime. But Manitoba Conservation declined that offer, opting to keep Makoon at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. The plan is to release the cub into the wild this summer. That spurred the creation of a Facebook group, Save Bear Cub Makoon, and the online petition.

Reports from the province last month indicated a June release, but on Friday a provincial spokeswoman said that's not set in stone. Instead, conservation officials will wait until Makoon reaches "the appropriate stage" of development.

"Department wildlife experts are working with the experts at the (Assiniboine Park Zoo) to ensure the cub is rehabilitated and released based on the best scientific evidence," she added. "Our approach with the Assiniboine Zoo is science-based and second-to-none in Canada."

Last month, Jim Duncan, acting director of the province's wildlife branch, told the media there was no evidence suggesting a longer rehabilitation stay would improve the cub's chance of survival.

Still, thousands of the cub's fans are calling on the province for a longer commitment to Makoon -- an investment they say could help improve the bear's chance of making it to adulthood. "I've read a lot of studies, but I've learned more from dealing with the bears than from dealing with the studies," McIntosh said. "They're all individual animals. A 20-pound bear cub in the wild is doomed to not survive in most cases. I wouldn't say never, but it's unlikely."

Makoon became a local celebrity in March, after St. Malo resident René Dubois found the fluff-bundle starving in a ditch. At the time, the baby bear could barely stand. Dubois took Makoon home and fed him with fruit and honey, while St. Malo residents flocked to see him.

A week later, Manitoba Conservation seized Makoon but didn't fine Dubois for harbouring the wild animal.

Many experts were concerned about how much human contact Makoon had after being discovered. But McIntosh said proper rehabilitation techniques could make it unlikely the bear would ever come into conflict with people, and the provincial spokeswoman said the bear has shown "a healthy fear of humans" in its zoo rehab facility.

There are no dedicated bear rehabilitation sanctuaries in Manitoba. In the past, the province has had to euthanize orphaned black bear cubs, citing a lack of a local facility to place them.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

   Read full biography