Frequently Asked Questions about Orphan Black Bear Rehabilitation

Are black bears at risk of extinction?

No. There are approximately 600,000 black bears in North America, of whom 40,000 call Alberta home. The population is considered stable to increasing and healthy.

Up to 10,000 cubs are born every year in Alberta, and approximately 3,500 of them will die from natural causes before they reach one year of age. It is estimated that 30 per cent of male cubs will survive to the age of five years old in the wild.

Are all cubs found alone orphans?

No. Female bears will leave their cubs for up to 15 hours at a time while searching for food.

If you find a bear cub alone, do not interfere with it. Doing so can be detrimental to the bear's wellbeing, and can place you at high risk if its mother is nearby.

Although black bear cubs normally remain with their mothers for up to 17 months, they are self-sufficient at five months. The natural survival rate of yearlings and sub-adults black bear cubs in the wild is approximately 60 per cent.

How do black bears become orphaned?

Black bear cubs may be orphaned when they become separated from their mother for several reasons, including:

  • the mother abandons her cub(s) due to her inability to produce milk;
  • fire or drought;
  • human disturbances at den sites (for example: snowmobile/cross-country ski trails, timber/mining operations); or
  • human interactions (for example: mother killed by a vehicle, or after a conflict with people, or a hunter.)

What should someone do if they encounter an orphan bear in the wild?

If you find any young animal that appears to be without its mother, leave it alone. Mothers will often leave their young for periods of time to search for food or secure habitat. These young animals are usually not in danger, and their mothers may be nearby even if you don't see them.

If you approach a bear cub, and its mother sees you, it may become aggressive in the defence of its cub.

If you have reason to believe that a bear cub you encounter is orphaned, it is best to call your local fish and wildlife office, and to allow them to monitor the situation before taking action.

What is Alberta's policy for orphan black bear cub rehabilitation?

Alberta's approach to orphaned wildlife puts public safety first, is based on best available scientific research, and is informed by compassion for these animals.

Alberta's new policy gives Fish and Wildlife several options:

  1. Leaving cubs in the wild/Returning cubs to the wild. This should be the first option considered if the circumstances are appropriate. This is a viable option if the bear is healthy, does not pose a risk to the public, and adequate steps have been taken to ensure the cubs are not orphaned (i.e. monitor overnight for mother bear activity);
  2. Raising/rehabilitating and releasing cubs – Where it has been determined by AEP this is the best option, approved rehabilitation facilities may receive bear cubs for rehabilitation and release.
  3. Placement in a zoo – This alternative is considered if other options are not available or appropriate as determined by AEP staff.
  4. Euthanization – This a last resort alternative that may be used when the health of the cubs is determined by the AEP wildlife biologist and/or wildlife veterinarian to be such that euthanization is the most humane decision, or other circumstances as determined by AEP or FWEB.

What happens when a cub is reported to AEP?

Under Alberta's new policy, our fish and wildlife staff work with rehabilitation facilities to ensure that the orphan cubs are provided an appropriate environment to prevent habituation.

Our goal is to ensure that these bears are provided a safe return to the wild whenever possible, or re-homing in a zoo when that is not possible. The possibility of humane euthanization is an absolute last resort, only for cases in which the bear will not be able to be released safely or rehomed.

What steps are being taken to support rehabilitation facilities in Alberta wanting to help rehabilitate orphan bears?

While the draft protocol is being introduced, AEP staff will work with those rehabilitation facilities that have expressed an interest in rehabilitating orphan black bear cubs to evaluate their current facility plan. The draft protocol will ensure that facility staff is appropriately trained and that the facility meets safety standards.

Are rehabilitation programs successful?

Although the protocol addresses standards to minimize habituation, AEP recognizes that it is essential that rehabilitation facilities can provide services that ensure the best possible outcomes for the bears so they have the best opportunity to survive in the wild without causing issues in populated areas. This means that they:

  • are able to forage on their own
  • are appropriately social with other bears
  • are less likely to become a part of human-bear conflict

There are varying results from different approaches to bear rehabilitation, but one consistent result is that the lower the amount of human contact, and the more socialization that cubs have with other bear cubs, the more successful they are when they return to the wild. As such, we have built protocols that try to ensure that is the environment that orphaned bear cubs in Alberta receive.

Appropriate and timely human help can be great, but a natural life of living in the wild is better.

What are some of the factors that need to be considered when dealing with bear rehabilitation?

The key to ensuring the long-term stability of bear populations is to protect their habitat and to minimize health and behaviour impacts from human activity, including rehabilitation. This means ensuring that rehabilitated bears:

  • do not spread disease to wild animals
  • have appropriate survival skills upon release
  • do not come into conflict with humans or other bears