Rewilding offers a nonlethal solution for the welfare of orphaned grizzly cubs and could one day become an important conservation tool for threatened and recovering grizzly bear populations.
In 2020 the Grizzly Bear Foundation began a multi-year research program to contribute a scientific understanding of orphaned grizzly cub captive rearing and rewilding efforts. Led by Independent Research Scientist Dr. Lana Ciarniello, we are working in partnership with the BC Provincial Government and the Northern Lights Wildlife Society – the one and only wildlife shelter in North America that rescues, cares for, and releases orphaned grizzly bear cubs.
Our research objectives are:
(1) To quantitatively examine the post-release survival and reproductive fitness of captive- reared grizzly bears over multiple years, preferably through to reproduction for female bears; and,
(2) To identify the rearing methods that enhance survival probability post-release
JUNE 2021: Four orphaned grizzly bear cubs were successfully returned to their wild home near Bella Coola, BC. Dr. Lana Ciarniello is monitoring their movements and habitat use with the help of GPS collars.
JULY 2021: Two 6 month old male grizzly cubs were tragically orphaned near Vanderhoof, BC. Thanks to the rescue efforts of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society, the cubs are now being cared for at the shelter in Smithers, BC. They will be released in Spring 2022.
When a grizzly mother is tragically killed, their cubs are either lethally removed, sent to zoos, or abandoned with little chance of survival on their own. The loss of grizzlies is both a welfare issue and an ecological issue. Removing a grizzly bear mother and her cubs from the landscape is a significant loss to the population and the ecosystem. Grizzly bears are keystone species – they play a critical role in maintaining the structure and biodiversity of ecosystems. They also have one of the slowest reproductive rates of any mammal in North America, with mature females having only 2-3 cubs every 3-4 years.
The results of this research will be used to inform and update policies regarding the fate of orphaned grizzly cubs and best practices for rewilding efforts in Canada and the United States.
Dr. Lana Ciarniello is an Independent Research Scientist, Co-Chair of the IUCN Bear Specialist Group’s Human-Bear Conflict Expert Team, and member of the newly formed North American Bear Expert Team. Lana has been researching black bears and grizzly bears since 1993. Her work has informed bear conservation strategies across the globe, and we are extremely grateful for her expertise and leadership as the Principal Investigator on Project Rewild.
Northern Lights Wildlife Society (NLWS) is the only wildlife shelter in North America permitted to raise and release orphaned grizzly bear cubs, and they hold extensive expertise. Over 30 grizzly bears have been rescued and released by NLWS. As a partner in this study, NLWS cares for the orphaned cubs for one year prior to their release, providing food, shelter, medical care, and lots of love. Peter and his passionate and dedicated team work incredibly hard to give wildlife a second chance at life in the wild. Learn more about their amazing work at www.wildlifeshelter.com
Biologists and veterinarians from the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development: Wildlife Branch provide guidance and support for this project and oversee the cubs' handling and welfare. As well, Ministry of Environment: Conservation Officers manage the capture and release of the cubs.