Orphaned Bear Cubs Get A Second Chance at Freedom

Eight orphaned bear cubs are now sleeping peacefully on Pikes Peak, snug inside artificial dens.
Eight orphaned bear cubs get second chance at freedom as CPW places them in artificial dens on Pikes Peak. All photos by © Mike DelliVeneri/CPW.

Hopefully, eight orphaned bear cubs are now sleeping peacefully on Pikes Peak, snug inside artificial dens built by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers, staff and volunteers during a recent snowstorm.

Four cubs share two dens built with downed logs, timbers and small branches, pine boughs and a mix of straw, hay and alfalfa.

The cubs should be exhausted after the day they experienced Tuesday when officers from Area 14 in Colorado Springs retrieved them from Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation in Wetmore. The bears spent the summer and fall there after their mothers died either due to being hit by cars, trains, at the hands of poachers or after being euthanized because they entered a home in search of human food.

Each cub was tranquilized, weighed (they ranged from 110 to 140 pounds each) and placed in a trap for transportation to the den sites on Pikes Peak about an hour away. On the mountain, each bear was blindfolded and hobbled, in case they were to awaken from their drug-induced sleep, then carried by sled through deep snow to their winter home.

And CPW officers, staff and volunteers performed this work under the glare of eight TV news cameras and other media who assembled to report on the bear-release project.

 Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers
After packing four orphan bear cubs in an artificial den behind a wall of straw, hay and alfalfa, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers relax for a moment before hiking out to their trucks. From left: Cody Wigner, assistant area wildlife manager, and district wildlife managers Phil Gurule, Aaron Berscheid, Sarah Watson and Tim Kroening.

It took about two hours to get all eight bears tucked into the dens. Work was delayed at times as a couple cubs did awaken, abruptly sitting up on their sleds to the surprise of CPW officers who quickly administered second doses of tranquilizer so release work could resume.

Over and over, officers crawled into the dens to precisely position the bears so they could easily breath and rest comfortably. The officers were soaked and covered with hay when they finally administered the drugs that would reverse the tranquilizers – the final act before the dens were sealed with alfalfa and packed with a thick layer of snow.

It was a great day on the mountain,” said Frank McGee, area wildlife manager who oversees Area 14. “This is the kind of experience that motivates every CPW wildlife officer. We all chose this career to work with wildlife, so this is very personal with us. It’s so rewarding to release wildlife back into their native habitat. It was really gratifying to know we gave them a second chance to be wild bears.”

Ideally, the bears will remain in the dens until spring when they’ll emerge as one-year-old bears and disperse into the forest to eat natural grasses, nuts and berries with a healthy fear of humans.

Bill Vogrin is the public information officer for CPW’s Southeast Region. He’s based in Colorado Springs.

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