Several rescued bears from the Cariboo are staying up this winter rather than hibernating in order to prepare for a spring release.
Two little black bears, Sassy from Williams Lake and Ellen from the Canim Lake area, are part of a group of 10 bears currently at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers who are defying their natural hibernation cycle to fatten up.
“They’re not sleeping because they came in too rough of shape,” said Northern Lights co-founder Angelika Langen, who rescued the bears Oct. 8 and 9.
“We keep them awake by feeding them over winter so they can keep growing.”
Langen said they found the approach gives the bears a better chance of survival and less habituation to humans.
Sassy was the injured little bear cub found alone in the Frizzi Road area. She had a facial injury which may have occurred in a vehicle incident. At the time Langen considered surgery to assist the cub, but has since decided against it.
“It was already healing so we decided to just leave it. She is eating well and has good movement. She still has a small hole in the roof of her mouth but we’re hoping by the time she gets released it will be completely healed.”
Langen reports Sassy is gaining weight well and is estimated to be about 60 pounds currently.
“She’s really roly-poly and happy. She has friends and she’s growing.”
Ellen, meanwhile, is also doing really well and is in an enclosure with three other black bear cubs; Reggie from Fraser Lake, Ringo from Smithers and Molimo from Telegraph Creek.
“She has three boys she’s friends with.”
As well as the bear cubs that are awake, there are another 19 at the facility who are hibernating through the winter.
In order to get them to sleep Langen said they mimic the natural process by decreasing the amount and quality of their food in the late fall.
The bears have one large den to sleep in together with branches and straw available to make their own nests.
“Everybody has their own spots,” she said, noting after 29 years of working with bears they do have confidence in their methods, although she admits it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to watch them all come out in the spring as there are no cameras inside the den.
Since the arrival of Sassy and Ellen, the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter has also taken a female cub they named Charlie from 105 Mile area Nov. 18, Iyan on Dec. 6 from 100 Mile House and another cub Jan. 4 from Nelson.
Langen said all those cubs were extremely under nourished but will be fine come spring, gaining on average a pound a day.
“Bears are amazing that way because of their hibernation abilities. Once they get the food they just pick up again and start growing.”
The facility is currently rehabilitating 38 black bears as well as two grizzly cubs.