Nine months after he was found alone in a tree, orphaned and severely burned by a wildfire, Boo Boo the bear cub is back in the wild where he belongs.
Wildlife biologists with Idaho Fish and Game released the black bear yearling into a remote central Idaho forest on Wednesday, the final step in a remarkable recovery at the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary in McCall, Idaho.
Boo Boo was four months old when he was spotted by a fisherman last August in an area blackened by the Mustang Complex Fires near Salmon, Idaho. The mother bear was nowhere to be found, and the cub was malnourished and unable to walk because of severe second-degree burns on the bottom of all four paws.
Firefighters rescued the cub from the tree, and after initial treatment by Idaho Fish and Game veterinarian Dr. Mark Drew, Boo Boo spent two weeks in intensive care at the Idaho Humane Society before he was transferred to Snowdon. At first, Drew was unsure if Boo Boo would even survive, let alone recover enough to leave captivity.
Boo Boo’s plight drew attention from media outlets around the nation, and the Idaho Humane Society was inundated with calls and donations from people concerned about Boo Boo’s health.
The bear spent this past fall and winter in a two-acre forested enclosure with 10 other orphaned cubs at Snowdon, and he grew from 25 pounds when he was found to 95 pounds when he was released.
“We have been feeding him much of the food that he would find in his natural habitat,” said Snowdon rehabilitation manager Lori Bagley. “He gets some salmon and trout, and local grocery stores donate fruits and vegetables that he would find in the wild. We had some morels that had popped out, and we found the spots where he had dug them up.”
“He’s in excellent health,” said Jeff Rohlman, a wildlife biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game who supervised the transfer. “He’s 30 to 40 pounds heavier than cubs of this age typically are in the wild.”
Before being released, bear cubs have to be enticed into a large culvert trap so they can be transported to a suitable remote location. According to Bagley, Boo Boo was the first of all the cubs to enter the trap, so he was released first.
Boo Boo was fitted with a GPS collar that will record his location as he explores his new surroundings and eventually settles into a territory, Bagley said. The collar is designed to fall off within a year, so it will not interfere with the bear’s growth.
Once it drops off, biologists will retrieve it and recover the data to document his travels. In the meantime, Boo Boo’s signal will be tracked once a month from the air by Fish and Game biologists when they conduct airplane radio location surveys for deer and elk.
Bagley said that she thinks Boo Boo will be well-suited to life in the wild.
“We tried to have as little contact as possible with him while he was here,” she explained. “He is fearful of humans. They see us coming and go the other way. That’s really good. That’s how bears should be. He has a lot of little activities, he can practice climbing and he plays with other cubs. Bears are solitary animals, but when they are young they play with other cubs. He’s pretty adapted. He gained a lot of weight, a lot more weight that he would have if he had been living in the wild. And he’s got all summer. You never know, but I think he’s going to be really good out there.”