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Home / World News / Orphaned cubs rescued and hazed by rehab volunteers will be placed in artificial dens on Pikes Peak – The Denver Post

Orphaned cubs rescued and hazed by rehab volunteers will be placed in artificial dens on Pikes Peak – The Denver Post

WETMORE — Seven orphaned bear cubs that Colorado wildlife biologists will set free Friday in artificial dens on the wild side of Pikes Peak — giving them a chance at survival — are victims of intensifying bear-human conflict that since 2013 has led to the euthanization of 570 bears, including their mothers.

Weighing about 12 pounds when rescued, the orphans grew in a rescue center near Wetmore, where Cecelia and Tom Sanders haze bears to instill wariness of humans.

She flicks her hand when cubs approach, batting them back. He sometimes blasts them with water from a modified fire extinguisher.

Contact is kept to a minimum to increase the odds that, if Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are able find suitable habitat, the cubs will be able to hold their own.

“I love it when they go,” Cecelia Sanders said this week at her nonprofit Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation center, now near capacity with 13 cubs weighing up to 150 pounds. It is one of three bear rescue centers in Colorado.

“To me, it is cruel to keep an animal like this in a cage,” she said. “No guarantees on what happens to them. But at least they get a chance.”

These cubs are the latest to be released as part of state efforts to give orphan bears a fresh start. The approach has had some success. CPW crews have saved up to 30 orphans a year. They dig out dens in remote areas, covering them with tree branches and, where possible, snow. Around sunrise Friday, wildlife biologists plan to tranquilize seven of the Wet Mountain cubs and haul them to three dens in hopes that the terrain can sustain them.

But that’s the challenge. Colorado’s population growth and development, combined with increasing visitation by outdoors-oriented tourists, alters suitable habitat. The natural year-to-year variability of forage creates complications: Wildlife officers say they cannot release bears on land where there are insufficient berries, oak leaves and acorns. Orphan cubs placed in older bears’ territory can be run off or killed.

“If human conflicts with bears continue to increase, we’re going to have more bears with cubs that come into this situation. It is not something that’s going to go away,” said CPW biologist Mark Vieira, manager of the agency’s carnivore program.

“Everyone wants to do — compassionately — everything they can for these cubs,” he said. “We have been able to show, informally at least, that if we can get the animals collected and have the investment of staff time and volunteer rehab time to feed those bears and fatten them up the winter, we have had success getting them out on the landscape in spring.”

But these cubs do not have the benefit of their mother, meaning less protection and less guidance finding food, he said. “They obviously have got to be at a disadvantage for survival.”

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