Orphaned grizzly and black bear cubs can be rescued from the wild and placed in wildlife care centres. Originally established as an alternative to killing orphaned cubs or to maintaining them in captivity for the remainder of their natural lives, rescue, care and release programs (a.k.a. bear rehabilitation) can offer significant conservation benefits as well.
Opportunities for raising and releasing common bear species (i.e. American black bear) allow rehabilitators and wildlife authorities to develop methodologies that may prove useful in the future, if intensive management of threatened or endangered bear populations becomes necessary. Of the eight recognized species of bears in the world, seven are thought to be in decline in all or parts of their historical range as a result of human activities. Only the American black bear appears to be stable. Regardless of the conservation status of the species, the public does not want to see orphaned cubs die of starvation or live in captivity under inhumane conditions.
Many human activities result in the orphaning of bear cubs. Some of the more common reasons include commercial land-use activities, regulated and non-regulated hunting, weather events, vehicle and train accidents, abandonment as a result of food shortages, and conflict situations.
Rescue centres offer a viable option for wildlife managers where they are available. These facilities, when operated by experienced persons, have demonstrated that bear cubs can be excellent candidates for release back to the wild. Survival rates for orphaned cubs do not differ substantially from those of wild cubs, and very few animals become involved in conflict situations within one year of their release.
Studies show that rescued, cared for and released American black bears have the ability to function behaviourally as wild bears. The ultimate success is when they become reproducing members of the population.
The successful release of orphaned black bears and grizzly bears back into the wild has generated interest in starting rehabilitation programs in many countries for rare species of bears. Rescue, care and release programs, provide bear managers with an opportunity to use information obtained from the release of orphaned black bears to evaluate long-term strategies for managing small bear populations, with no risk to those threatened or endangered bear populations. These programs also provide positive educational and public relations value to governmental entities charged with managing wild bear populations.
The cost of raising and releasing orphaned cubs is substantial but is borne by rescue organizations fundraising from private welfare organizations, grants and using their personal funds.
For more detailed information, see Orphan Bear Cubs: Rehabilitation and Release Guidelines by Dr. John Beecham (December 2006).
Management Implications for Releasing Orphaned, Captive-Reared Bears Back to Wild – Beecham, Beecham et al, 2015
Management of Orphaned Black Bear Cubs in British Columbia: Jurisdictional Summary, Recommendations for Best Practices, Summary of Research on Captive Rearing Efficacy, and Study Proposal
for the British Columbia Conservation Foundation, May 2019.
Download a list of bear rescue centres.
Download Proceedings 2007 International Workshop on the Rehabilitation, Release and Monitoring of Orphan Bear Cubs
See Report: Aiding in the Wild Survival of Orphan Cubs
Grizzly Bear Rescue, Care and Release Links:
IFAW Canadian Grizzly Bear Cub Release – 2011: Grizzly Rehabilitation in Bella Coola, BC, video of releasing cubs to the wild featuring Dr. John Beecham
Grizzly/Brown Bear Rehab Russia video – IFAW Panzhetov Bear Cub Rehabilitation Center – Spring 2011
Asiatic Black Bears: WALKING THE BEARS: Rehabilitation of Asiatic black bears in Arunachal Pradesh – review report here.