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Orphaned Tahoe bear cubs flourish at refuge in Reno

CARSON CITY — In April, four orphaned bear cubs were rescued in Stateline by Nevada Department of Wildlife and transferred to Animal Ark, a nonprofit wildlife refuge organization located in Reno.

They were relocated by NDOW after their 18-year-old mother was found dead, seemingly of old age, reported the Nevada Appeal. Now almost 6 months old, the cubs have settled into Animal Ark and eat large amounts of food while playing in their habitat.

“They have a little pool that I just filled up and they already have half the water out of there. They absolutely love water,” said Diana Hiibel, Animal Ark co-founder and programs manager. “They also have a climbing apparatus, so they’re swinging off that, which gives us a chance to hide the food for them.”

In order to simulate life in the wild, Hiibel and her husband hide pine nuts, mealworms, superworms and lettuce throughout the bears’ habitat, allowing the cubs to forage for their own food. The cubs also enjoy eating fish, and according to Hiibel, salmon is their favorite.

According to Hiibel, the cubs — two male and two female — are approximately three times their size when they arrived at Animal Ark.

“They were seven to eight pounds when they came in, and now they’re 23 to 27 pounds. They are growing every day,” Hiibel said.

Animal Ark’s educational component includes exhibit areas for guests to observe animals in the organization’s care, but the cubs are in a separate area secluded from the public. Because bear cubs tend to rehabilitate well, they are kept away from human interaction in an area with two dens, a pool and a 4-foot log, in which food is hidden.

The cubs are doing well, Hiibel said, and are on track to be released into the wild during this year’s hibernation season.

“Our job is to maintain cubs in good health and ensure that they get the proper food, gain the weight, and are held here until it’s time for them to be released,” she added.

Had the cubs not been rescued, their lives would have been in danger. With Tahoe’s tourism increase during summer months, bears face higher risks of harm — mainly because people are uninformed about proper ways to interact with them.

“(People) don’t understand that trash, food in cars, open windows to kitchens with food inside, and leaving pet food out all attract (bears),” said Ann Bryant, executive director of BEAR League. “They take the bear as the problem, when it’s actually the people.”

Bryant said it’s important for the cubs to remain in isolation at Animal Ark because they should not grow up being comfortable around people. This way, when the cubs are released they will not seek out humans for friendship or food. It’s also vital for people to refrain from feeding bears.

“The dangerous animal is definitely us. I worry about the bears when we have the influxes of visitors that are already arriving,” Bryant said. “The level of ignorance is just astonishing. (People are) either scared to death of them or think they’re pets, and I don’t know which is worse.”

Before coming to Tahoe, people should know it’s bear country, so bears are part of the environment.

Bryant noted Tahoe is home to non-aggressive black bears, and there has never been a case of a black bear killing a human in California or Nevada.

“(People) don’t want to worry about their children getting eaten by a bear, and they don’t have to anyway,” Bryant said.

She stresses the importance of appreciating the bears instead of fearing them, and urges people to educate themselves before coming to Tahoe.

“You can’t take the wild out of the wilderness and still have it be a wilderness,” Bryant said.

For more information or to donate money to Animal Ark, visit www.animalark.org. For more information on bear safety, visit www.savebears.org.

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