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Orphaned Harlowton bears back in the wild

BILLINGS – Two black bear cubs separated from their mother last fall by overly enthusiastic selfie photographers are back in the wild after spending the winter in captivity.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game wardens and wildlife biologist released the yearling cubs in south central Montana earlier this week. They last were seen climbing into a big pine tree in their native habitat.

In September, the cubs and their mother were near the north edge of Harlowton along Highway 191 when people stopped to take their picture. At some point, people chased after the fleeing bears and got between the mother and her cubs. The cubs ran east across the highway while the mother ran west to avoid the people.

Later the sow and cubs were seen in different parts of Harlowton, but enough people interfered with the animals to keep them from reconnecting. Eventually the mother left and FWP was not able to find her.

FWP tranquilized the two cubs and sent them to the Wildlife Center of Montana at Montana Wild in Helena. With the fall bear hunting season open, FWP game wardens were reluctant to release the tranquilized cubs into the wild.

The cubs and their mother were separated and they could not be reunited as a direct result of human interference, FWP game warden Nick Taylor said. He encouraged people to keep their distance from all wildlife, for their own safety and for the good of the animals.