ST. GEORGE — Two orphaned bear cubs were released back into the wild on a Southern Utah mountain range Tuesday, just in time to start hibernating for the winter.
The chubby black bear cubs had been busy gaining weight since early summer at a Utah State University rehabilitation facility in Millville, after they and several other cubs were found without their mothers in areas throughout Utah.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists are unsure exactly why the cubs were initially orphaned.
“It’s likely they just lost their mothers,” DWR Outreach Manager Phil Tuttle said.
Facing an uncertain future without necessary parental care, they were moved to the USU facility to increase their chances of survival.
During their time at the facility, the bears were fed a high-protein diet, which allowed them to gain weight quickly. They were also fed in a manner that didn’t associate the food with their temporary human caretakers, also essential to their survival.
“They emphasize a need to help the bears to not associate food with humans so that we don’t have any issues with the bears after they’re released if they find their way to a campground or something like that,” Tuttle said.
Once fattened up for the long winter, the bears were loaded into large, drum-like traps with sliding doors and driven to the Pavant Range south of Filmore where they were released by DWR technicians high in the mountains.
“We use a shotgun to shoot in the air to make some noise,” Tuttle said, “again, kind of associating humans with something that they don’t want to be around.”
The cubs scampered away and found their way up some nearby pine trees before wandering off deeper into the woods.
“The area they were released is in an area that is optimal habitat for bears and has everything that they would need to survive,” Tuttle said.
Some food was also left about a half-mile from the release location to give the cubs a little extra help before they start hibernation.
Both bears were fitted with GPS tracking collars to allow DWR biologists to follow their movements and study their hibernation habits.
“Bears have an amazing instinct to be able to find a place that is suitable for them to hibernate in,” Tuttle said, “so they’ve got a great chance of finding a good place to hibernate for the winter.”
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