Bandit, a recent black bear cub arrived from Juneau, sleeps on top of a cage in the quarantine area he shares with Smokey, the recent arrival from Seward.
Les Kinnear wants the Fortress of the Bear to eventually release rehabilitated cubs back into the wild, but these bears, rescued as cubs, will likely spend the duration of their lives at the Fortress. They ate apple slices on a recent day.v
Story last updated at 11/14/2013 - 5:44 pm
SITKA — You might know Smokey, but you probably don’t know Bandit.
Both are black bear cubs. Both are about 10 months old. And both arrived at the Fortress of the Bear around the same time.
Smokey gained fame after finding her way into the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward. Angels for Animals Network adopted her cause and started a Facebook campaign to keep her from being euthanized, which ended when Fortress of the Bear was approved to take her in.
A short while later, Bandit arrived to keep her company.
Though Bandit was initially stressed from the move, both bears are doing “extremely well,” said Fortress founder Les Kinnear. “They’re both just beautiful little bears.”
Area Management Biologist for Fish and Game Ryan Scott said the Juneau department kept tabs on Bandit for more than a week.
Sometimes Bandit would spend the entire day in one of several crabapple trees in the neighborhood around the airport. He also started getting into some trash cans.
“Generally speaking, there are no placement options for bear cubs, brown or black,” Scott said. “I appreciate knowing what’s going on because the last thing we want is to see an animal suffer. If that’s happening, we may or may not intervene. We typically try to let nature run its course.”
They were also waiting to see if the bear’s mother might be anywhere nearby, but she never showed up, Scott said.
After hearing about the Fortress of the Bear’s opening and deciding to send him to Sitka, Fish and Game began trying to trap Bandit, but Bandit preferred playing on the trap to going inside it.
A few days later, after “quite a bit of administrative work,” Scott and an area biologist darted Bandit when he was in a tree and took him straight to the airport.
He said they don’t know what happened to Bandit’s mother. They think Bandit might be the same cub who was reported a few weeks earlier near Glacier Highway.
“He wasn’t in terrible shape by any means… we just don’t know,” he said. “Every summer we get several bears that are hit by cars and unrecovered. That may have been what happened, but it’s an unknown for sure.”
Now that they’re at Fortress of the Bear, the cubs are housed behind several layers of protection, in quarantine to ensure they’re healthy. On a recent Monday, Smokey napped in a cage while Bandit prowled around on top of it.
Kinnear is working on expanding the bears’ indoor habitat. This winter, he and his wife are also building an outdoor habitat for the cubs.
“This time of year, they would be going into hibernation with their mother anyway,” Kinnear said. “We’re trying to feed them up.”
The Fortress of the Bear also houses five brown bears in two different enclosures. All were rescued when they were orphaned as cubs, something Kinnear said is usually due to humans.
Kinnear doesn’t hesitate when asked what he’s learned about bears since he and his wife started the process of getting bears about 10 years ago.
“They’re a whole lot smarter than anybody ever thought,” he said.
Balloo, an 800-pound 4 ½-year-old brown bear who lives at the facility with his two siblings, was rescued as a cub. He’s figured out how to manipulate gates and latches. Kinnear keeps them locked.
The bears also used to have a big yellow buoy ball in their habitat, he said. Balloo kept trying to climb on top of it out in the open, but he couldn’t. It kept rolling away. Then he saw a tractor tire and put two and two together. He rolled the ball inside the tire. At long last, he was able to stand on it.
“He’s thinking in a combination of different directions,” Kinnear said.
Each bear also understands a variety of different commands.
He hopes to eventually reintroduce the bears to the wild, which has been successfully done other places. He expects that will be a while, though, and doesn’t expect it to happen for the bears currently living there. In the meantime, he makes their lives as comfortable as possible. Each exhibit space is more than nine times the size of a typical zoo setting, he said. They also have “a variety of habitat types and substrates.”
“Anything we can do to entertain and enrich their lives,” he said.
The Fortress’s bears typically weigh twice their same-age bears in the wild, because of their reliable diet, Kinnear said. Right now they’re consuming 30,000 to 40,000 calories a day in preparation for winter.
They also live about 10 percent longer due to periodic deworming and other health measures.
In the meantime, the Fortress of the Bear places bears out to various zoos and organizations, though it’s much more difficult to find homes for black bears than brown bears, he said. They’ve sent three bears to the Bronx Zoo, one to Texas, and one to Montana.
Find out more at http://fortressofthebear.org/ or on the organization’s Facebook page.