On May 17 we said goodbye to four orphaned bear cubs who had been in our care for the better part of a year. Two of the cubs were a brother and sister who arrived at PAWS last July after their mother was killed by a car. The other two were brothers who came to us last October after their mother was shot by a hunter.
Together with three other orphans from Oregon, the bear cubs thrived under our care. By the time we tranquilized and examined them on May 16 in preparation for their release, the smallest cub weighed in at 115 pounds, and the largest tipped the scales at 175 pounds. All four were fitted with GPS tracking collars before they were placed in their transport carriers.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) performs what is known as a "hard release" with all rehabilitated bears. During the release, the bears are intimidated by Karelian Bear Dogs and frightened with shotgun-propelled beanbags and aerial explosions. This spectacle is meant to give the bear a lasting, negative impression of people and dogs so that the bear will steer clear of them in the future. It can be hard to watch, but it is worth the few seconds of trauma if the bears will be safer longterm as a result.
The first Darrington bear to leave the transport container was the male. He cautiously stepped out, and looked in the direction of the barking bear dogs Mishka and Cash. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo, the bear had managed to remove his tracking collar in the container.
Once she saw that the dogs were no longer a threat, the bear returned to the ground and ran off into the forest. Her collar was still securely in place. It will allow WDFW biologists to monitor her movements on a daily basis for about a year, at which point a canvas spacer in the collar will have broken down, allowing the collar to fall off.
Later in the day, the other two orphaned cubs were released on National Forest land east of the Cascades. PAWS Staff were not present for that release, but the WDFW reported that it went well and that both bears still had their collars in place as they ran out of sight.