DIVIDE, Colo. – An orphaned bear cub that Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers placed in an artificial den in January in hopes of returning it to the wild had to be euthanized recently after it entered a home in search of food.
The bear was one of two cubs left without its mother last July when their sow was shot and killed south of Woodland Park in a suspected case of poaching. Both cubs were sent to rehab where they were fed natural foods – acorns, other nuts and berries – and taught to avoid humans.
Finally, in late January, CPW officers and staff built an artificial den on the slopes of Pikes Peak. The bears, now a year old, were tranquilized, hauled to the dens and placed inside with the hope they’d emerge in the spring as wild bears again.
Before placing the cubs in the den, CPW wildlife officers fitted the cubs with GPS ear tag transmitters supplied by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs to allow CPW to track their movements once they emerged from hibernation in the spring and to follow their progress as rehabbed adult bears.
The satellite data shows one bear has roamed more than 60 miles around the Pike National Forest, reaching Tarryall, some 30 miles away, before circling back to the area of its den on Pikes Peak.
Unfortunately, its sibling bear entered a home in Teller County through an unlocked door.
“We were fortunate no one was home when the bear entered the home,” said Tim Kroening, Area Wildlife Manager for the Pikes Peak region. “Even better, when the homeowners returned and discovered it in the kitchen, the bear ultimately left on its own.”
But the bear’s action left CPW no choice.
“Wild bears are naturally afraid of people and avoid them,” Kroening said. “When a bear learns that human homes are a source of food, they become dangerous to people.
“Imagine encountering a bear in your kitchen. If there is no clear exit available, a tragic confrontation could occur. We can’t risk that happening.”
And releasing the bear is not an option because there’s nowhere they can be taken where they won’t encounter another home.
“Colorado has become so densely populated that it is difficult to find a place to take a bear so that it won’t encounter human homes,” Kroening said.
He said the incident illustrates exactly why CPW entered the partnership with the zoo.
“Urban bear conflict is one of our single biggest issues,” he said. “And we need to continue to refine factors that lead to success in our rehabilitation efforts with orphaned bear cubs. This is just one example and we have a lot more data to collect. We’re grateful to the zoo for its ongoing partnership with us.”
This project evolved over conversations that grew out of the Springs Bear Smart Task Force that CPW formed with residents of southwest Colorado Springs neighborhoods where bear conflicts are common.
This year may be a particularly hard year for bears due to ongoing drought conditions coupled with a late spring freeze that may have wiped out some of their natural food sources, acorns and berries crops.
“In years where there are natural food shortages, we see more human-bear conflicts,” Kroening said. “It is critical that people do their part and stay ‘Bear Aware.’ Please secure your trash, bird feeders, and any other attractants so that bears cannot get to them. Keep your doors and ground level windows closed and locked. Please lock your vehicles up as bears are smart enough to figure out how to get into them if they smell something tasty.”
More Bear Aware tips can be found on the CPW website: cpw.state.co.us/bears.