The Arizona Republic
Scottsdale wildfire sanctuary releases two more black bears into wilderness
The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center announced that they recently released two more black bears into the wild through a partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, bringing their yearly total to five.
According to the SWCC, all five bears were rescued as babies and given months of rehabilitation at their conservation center in Scottsdale until they were deemed fit to return to the wild.
Kim Carr, Animal Care Manager with the SWCC, confirmed that two of the bears were first discovered in August after their mother was fatally injured by a vehicle collision, and taken by the Navajo Nation to Southwest Wildlife. The third was found orphaned in southeastern Arizona in October and captured by an AZGFD wildlife manager, who transported them to the conservation center after efforts to locate its mother failed, the AZGFD said.
“Black bears typically stay with their mothers for 1.5 to 2 years to learn all the foraging and survival skills they need to grow big and strong,” the SWCC said. “The babies were much too young to have already left their mothers, and they were in dire need of care.”
The conservation center said that the game and fish department rescued the fourth bear in 2021 after he was found wandering by himself in the mountains south of Tucson with “no mother in sight”, and the fifth bear who was wandering alone in the snow and discovered by Monks at the Saint Paisius Orthodox Monastery in Safford.
The SWCC said that the fifth bear was discovered “fighting for her life” and arrived at the conservation center malnourished and dehydrated, with advanced cases of pneumonia and ringworm.
“Rehabilitating baby bears is no small feat,” Carr said. “It costs about $30 per day to feed just one baby bear and Southwest had five for most of this year. We couldn’t be happier to see how big and strong these little ones have grown.
“Every day I’m in awe of and so grateful for all of the generous donors who make it possible to save these innocent animals and let them live free in the wild where they belong.”
According to Jeanette Ham, lead veterinary technician and clinic manager with the SWCC, the bear’s rehabilitation includes several different focuses, including consistent veterinary care for the animals and a hands-off approach.
“We try to limit human-animal interaction as much as possible. So, unlike zoos... a lot of our approaches are hands-off,” Ham said. “We don’t like to put our hands on the animals, I mean, we don’t even look at the animals, we don’t talk to the animals, we try not to get them used to the sounds of humans. Because then that would also make them want to, you know, interact with humans.”
Ham also noted that the conservation center provides bears with a lot of enrichment to promote each bear’s natural instinct and desire to hunt.
According to Ham, each department comes together to evaluate each of the bears to decide if they are a good candidate to be released or if they are better off remaining in the conservation center for the time being. The SWCC intentionally does not reveal where they release any bears, to protect them from hunters.
The conservation center confirmed that the first three bears were released back into the wild in June 2022, before the remaining two were released in September after being deemed “strong and wild enough to make it back home.”
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking, the morning of a big release like this one,” said Dr. Leo Egar, Director of Animal Health, Welfare, and Survival. “We just want everything to go smoothly and for the kids to go home safe. This is why we do what we do.”