High-profile bear cubs spend winter in rehab | VailDaily.com

High-profile bear cubs spend winter in rehab

SILT, Colo. – Eight high-profile residents of Aspen and one from Basalt are going through rehab this winter, but in this case the hope is they will be better prepared for the wild life come spring.

The nine upper valley residents are bears cubs who were orphaned after their mothers were killed for repeated contact with humans last summer. The cubs, along with four others from different parts of the state, were taken to the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center in Silt.

Of the 13 taken there, four were placed in dens in the backcountry for hibernation last fall; four are resting at a “halfway house” and will be placed in dens in coming weeks; four remain at the center; and one had to be put down because of its condition, according to foundation founder and director Nanci Limbach.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife took the bears to Limbach’s foundation because of her team’s reputation for successfully reintroducing young bruins to the wild.

“We’ve released about 130 bears, and we have a 98 percent success rate,” Limbach said. Success is defined as no human contact for at least one full year.

The earlier in the year the cubs arrive at the foundation’s quarters, the better. Limbach and her staff minimize the cubs’ contact with humans but provide food that helps them put on enough weight to hibernate. Their food is decreased in late fall, imitating conditions in nature and encouraging them to go into hibernation. Four chubby cubs were taken into the mountains when snow started to fall. They built their own dens or were assisted by Limbach’s team.

Those cubs were on their own after the humans delivered them to the backcountry. “If they’re denning, we’re done,” Limbach said. “We don’t even check on them.”

Four other cubs weren’t quite ready in the fall for hibernation on their own, but Limbach’s team wanted to prepare them. Those cubs were taken to property owned by the foundation at 7,500 feet in elevation about eight weeks ago. The cold, snowy conditions move them closer to hibernation, thus the name the halfway house. The drowsy cubs were placed in a cave packed with straw, and they were provided with some food in case they weren’t ready to crash. In the next few weeks, those cubs will be taken by snowmobile to mountain locations and placed in dens for the remainder of the winter.

“We try not to keep the bears at our facility because there are a lot of animals coming and going,” Limbach said.

Sometimes it is inevitable. The remaining four cubs stayed at the Silt headquarters this winter because foundation staff felt the animals weren’t ready to be on their own. They need to be at least 50 pounds going into hibernation. Two of the four are denning. All four will be released sometime in summer 2010, Limbach said.

She prefers winter to summer releases because it follows a natural cycle. Sows chase off yearlings when they emerge from hibernation in their second spring, so they would be on their own anyway, she noted.

The hope is that all the cubs will forget any nasty habits, like Dumpster diving, that they learned from their moms.

The rehab effort with the 13 cubs isn’t close to a record. The foundation worked with 19 cubs in either 2006 or 2007, Limbach said, and the record year was 25 cubs in 2004, to the best of her recollection. The majority of the cubs come from Aspen, she said.

The Basalt town government contributed $1,500 to the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation for 2010 for its work with bear cubs. The nonprofit organization relies on individual and corporate contributions. They can be mailed to the foundation at 5945 County Road 346, Silt, CO 81652.

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