Orphaned Grizzly Cubs Going to Bearizona Wildlife Park

Working jointly, staff from Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found a home for three grizzly bear cubs that were orphaned last month. The cubs will be placed at Bearizona Wildlife Park, located in Williams, AZ. This 158-acre facility is accredited by the Zoological Association of America and is home to 39 black bears and many other species of North American wildlife. The wildlife park receives more than 400,000 visitors annually and educates the public on the importance of conservation and wildlife management.

The cubs came from a female that was involved in a surprise encounter with a hiker near Dupuyer. The female was euthanized on April 9 by FWP staff after she was shot and injured by a hiker.  At the time, it wasn’t clear how many cubs she had, though it was thought she had at least one.

Photo Courtesy of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

Three days later, on Friday evening, a ranching family spotted three cubs huddled together in a nearby field. The family called FWP to report the cubs. While waiting for FWP staff to arrive, the family grew concerned for the cubs’ safety because of a male grizzly that lives in the area and because of an impending snowstorm. The ranching family, being adept at roping, were able to gently rope the cubs and keep them in one area. A neighboring rancher offered a barrel in which they placed the cubs. When FWP staff arrived shortly afterwards, they took possession of the cubs and transported them to the wildlife center.

The cubs have been at the Wildlife Center at Montana WILD for a little over six weeks while FWP staff have been actively searching for a zoo that meets rigorous, scientifically based standards. FWP and USFWS only places Montana wildlife in zoos that meet these standards because they are committed to providing wildlife that they place the highest quality of life possible. These standards address the areas of:

  • Exceptional animal care and welfare, including adequately trained staff
  • Veterinary care
  • Safety for the public, staff and the animals they care for
  • Proper enclosures that can keep wildlife safely contained, allow for adequate space, include habitat features, and enrichment items for mental stimulation
  • Educating the public on conservation
  • Financial stability

During the search for a zoo for these three cubs, FWP and USFWS staff have faced many challenges. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find permanent placement for orphaned grizzly bear cubs. Some of these challenges are:

  • Fewer than 10 percent (240) of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the USDA are AZA accredited. Only 60 zoos are ZAA accredited.
  • Out of the AZA accredited zoos, only 45 of these exhibitors have bear exhibits, with most possessing younger-middle-aged grizzlies, meaning they are not looking to add more bears to their exhibit at this time.
  • COVID-19 also had a huge financial impact on zoos because they rely heavily on visitors and have had to close their doors to visitors. It is costly to build and maintain animal enclosures, feed animals and provide the staff to care for these animals daily.

The public should be aware that these challenges may impact finding placement in the future for orphaned grizzly bear cubs, and FWP staff may either need to leave orphaned cubs in the wild or humanely euthanize them. People can play their part in reducing the number of orphaned bear cubs by managing any potential bear attractants on private property, recreating safely and carrying bear spray close at hand and knowing how to use it. While recreating, please:

  • Avoid traveling at night, dawn or dusk
  • Travel in groups of people
  • Make noise to avoid surprising bears, especially where visibility or hearing is limited (woods, bushy areas, streams)
  • Stay alert and look for bear activity (tracks, scat, overturned rocks and logs)

There will be an FWP Live Facebook Event on the cubs on May 28 at 11 a.m.