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Trooper Kyle Carson says the bear was slightly decomposed, and bore no obvious signs of a gunshot wound or other external injury.
Her three cubs, which were painted with the numbers 12, 13, and 14 were captured on Tuesday by the Fortress of the Bear.
Fortress co-director Evy Kinnear said they were advised on Monday by ADF&G to reset the deadman trap that had first been used to capture the sow and cubs back in July. Kinnear says it was believed that a second bear had been frequenting the area of the Fortress, and this might be an opportunity for ADF&G to place a collar on her, too.
But, come Tuesday morning it was not a sow, but the three cubs who had been locked in the second tank. Kinnear says there was something about their behavior that suggested their mother was gone.
“There was no indication from them that they were looking outside the wall for her.”
After hearing about a bear on the prowl near the Fortress on Monday, ADF&G biologist Phil Mooney used radio tracking to locate the collared sow in the vicinity of a Sawmill Creek Road neighborhood. On Tuesday, after the cubs were trapped, Mooney again located the sow’s radio signal in the same location.
At that point, Mooney knew the sow was either dead, or had slipped the collar. He says he and Trooper Carson waited until Wednesday morning to try and locate her, on the chance that she had been killed by another bear who still might be guarding the carcass.
Mooney says that it clear that the cubs had spent a couple of days with the carcass of their mother. There was scat everywhere, much of it containing plastic bags, foil, and other remnants of area trash cans. With no obvious bullet wound or other injury, it’s possible that the sow’s diet may have played a role in her death.
Troopers say the carcass will remain where it is for the time being.
Meanwhile, Evy Kinnear says the cubs seem to enjoy their new home, though it’s not at all clear how long they’ll remain there.
“They’re comfortable, they like this space, they’re already tearing trees down. Redecorating.”
The cubs’s future will be decided at a meeting of ADF&G officials next week. They were born last year, and though they were nursing until a couple of weeks ago, they’re up to about 100 pounds each – still cubs, according to ADF&G guidelines, and feasible to ship, though not easily. Phil Mooney believes the cubs are conditioned to eating trash, and would return to Sitka if released.
The Fortress of the Bear holds only a temporary permit for additional bears. Evy Kinnear believes the cubs are still just young enough to adapt to captivity. Kinnear remains unhappy with action regarding two similar-aged cubs whose mother had been killed by a Sitka resident near the golf course back in May.
“They put them down. The town was outraged, because they were still young enough to be captive. I think now we’ve come to a better understanding of what captive environments can do. And I think that if we can prove that we helped these guys out and find homes for them, that will make the saving of more cubs viable.”
Kinnear says it’s premature to discuss whether the cubs may join the two other animals living permanently in her facility. Tom Schumacher, the permit biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Juneau concurs. But, he says the intent of the department is not to euthanize the cubs. He says there is an out-of-state zoo looking to house up to three bears that will be part of the discussion over the future of the cubs.
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