ANCHORAGE – Wildlife biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the decision to put down three black bear cubs wasn’t an easy one. Jessy Coltrane said she did everything she could to try to find a home for them.
“I always call and double check. Something else might have come up. I push our permitting office, check again and again to see if they have any placements. Unfortunately the answer kept coming back no,” said Coltrane.
Zoos around the country come up with wish lists of animals they have room for. The Permitting Office in Juneau solicits those lists to see which animals can be placed from Alaska. This year there was only one request for black bear cubs and that was filled a few weeks ago.
“Unfortunately when we don't have additional placement our only option is to put those animals down. Especially if they're very young cubs like these were, they're not going to make it through the winter,” said Coltrane.
Last month the Alaska Zoo temporarily took in three black bear cubs that were orphaned when their mom was killed after repeatedly getting into campers and stealing food. The cubs spent a few weeks there before heading to their permanent home in Michigan.
“That's a rarity because black bears are found in most of the other states so it's pretty rare that a zoo will take a black bear from Alaska. So it's fortunate those three found a home, but it's unfortunate the other didn't,” said Executive Director Pat Lampi. “It's tough when you get to some species because there's just not enough homes out there.”
Lampi said the zoo already has two healthy black bears and is actually over capacity on brown bears.
“We were holding one a few years ago for a facility in the Lower 48 that backed out at the end of the year. So we have one we didn't anticipate. We're making do and we're actually spending money to build a third den to accommodate it.”
He said the facility just doesn’t have any more room for orphaned animals.
“You can't take in more than you can handle. That's why we have our list, and we have to turn down animals too. You don't to put too many animals in one exhibit and ruin the quality of life for all of them,” said Lampi.
With zoos across the country out of room for black bear cubs, wildlife biologists hope they won’t come across any more orphans because those will likely have to be put down as well.
Fish and Game also said the situation could have been avoided if residents would lock up their trash until pick-up day. Many of the bears killed this year had been repeatedly getting into garbage. Putting trash cans out the night before is illegal and carries a $300 fine.