Orphaned Grizzly Cubs

Three grizzly cubs huddle up together near the top of a tree on June 5 near Lincoln after their mother was killed by a vehicle. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said Tuesday that the bears will be placed at Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien in Quebec, Canada.

Three grizzly bear cubs orphaned last month after their mother was killed by a vehicle near Lincoln have a new home north of the border.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has agreed to send the bears to Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Félicien in Quebec, Canada, the agency said Tuesday. The cubs gained statewide and national attention in recent weeks as FWP searched for a facility to house them, or face the potential of euthanasia.

“Our policy says four weeks that we have to place them — it’s not really specific on what happens next — but if at that point we can’t find a placement for them then we are left with no other option,” than to euthanize them, said Greg Lemon, FWP spokesman.

The three cubs were captured June 5 and brought to the wildlife rehabilitation center at Montana WILD in Helena. Once there the facility does not place grizzlies back into the wild and also cannot house adult bears, Lemon said. While FWP does rehab and release black bears, grizzlies tend to quickly associate people with food, becoming habituated and posing a potential hazard.

“We want to be honest and transparent with people that once they come into the facility, there’s not always a good option to get them placed,” he said.

In the case of the grizzly cubs, the significant public interest contributed to a number of promising leads. Lemon said author Susan Reneau, who lives in Montana, and Stuart Strahl, who is the president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, became outside advocates in searching for a suitable facility.

If for some reason Quebec hits a snag, Lemon says the agency is confident it will find another option.

The process of finalizing the placement may take up to two months to secure federal permitting for the transfer. Once in Quebec, the cubs will be on permanent loan and remain the property of the state of Montana, through a memorandum of understanding between FWP, the zoo and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Félicien is a member of the Canadian Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, which is the Canadian equivalent of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the United States.

“The staff and myself are very excited for the arrival of the orphan grizzly cubs. We have room for them and we’ll keep the family together. That should be reassuring for them. The well-being of the animals under our care is very important and we’ll provide a stimulating habitat, a well-trained staff and a trainer for the newcomers,” Christine Gagnon, director of conservation and education for the zoo, said in a statement. “We’ll be pleased to keep the people of Montana informed about their adaptation and growth through our website and Facebook page.”

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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