Wild brown bear cub close-up


Wild brown bear cub close-up

Photo by: Byrdyak


The Mission to Save Grizzly Bear Cubs

When a mother bear is killed, what happens to her cubs? A team of scientists may have found a solution — an orphanage for grizzly bears.

August 06, 2021

Grizzly bears are endangered in the contiguous United States. While grizzly bear attacks on humans are rare (there are only about 11 attacks per year in all of North America), what happens when a mother grizzly bear has to be put down?

North American grizzly mothers typically tend to their offspring for two years. An orphaned cub, left to its own devices, will die on its own in the wild.

Most of the time, after a mother grizzly is put down, her cubs are either killed on the spot, left to die in the wild, or brought to a zoo. But a team of scientists in British Columbia is working to solve this problem.

A Brown Bear mother and cubs in Katmai National Park in Alaska.  The cub's reflection is seen in the river bank water.


Grizzly bear cubs may stay with their mothers for as long as three years — relying on her for protection.

Photo by: webguzs


Grizzly bear cubs may stay with their mothers for as long as three years — relying on her for protection.

Northern Life Wildlights Shelter in Smithers, B.C. is trying to create a place for these orphaned grizzly cubs. It is the only organization on the continent where orphaned bears can be raised until they are old enough to fend for themselves in the wild. Led by former German zoo keepers, Angelika and Peter Langen, the shelter’s goal is to fatten the cubs up and teach them life skills to avoid conflicts with humans, like the ones that led to their mothers’ deaths.

“We want to give these bears the best chance for survival,” bear biologist Dr. Lana M. Ciarniello said to The New York Times. “We want to set them up for success.”

Last October, three cubs arrived at the sanctuary after their mother was killed in a collision with a truck. Later that year, two more cubs arrived after their mother was found eating food out of a dumpster near a populated community, and was shot and killed.

The five cubs quickly became friendly- playing with ice cubes together, slathering themselves in mud, and even choosing to sleep together despite being given separate dens.

Financed by the Grizzly Bear Foundation, this is the first long-term study in the world testing whether sheltered cubs can be successfully rehabilitated back into the wild. The goal is for a “rewilded” cub to thrive in nature and eventually have cubs of its own.

Photo taken in Stockholm, Sweden


Grizzly cubs spend most of their time in the shelter playing.

Photo by: Niklas Storm / EyeEm

Niklas Storm / EyeEm

Grizzly cubs spend most of their time in the shelter playing.

The bears are watched from an observation cage to keep an eye on them with minimal human interaction. A key to the program’s success is making sure the bears do not interpret humans as friendly, so when they are released, they avoid humans and civilization altogether.

The shelter is set on 220 acres of wilderness, and is run by six employees and a team of dedicated volunteers. Since it began housing orphaned grizzly bears in 2007, Northern Life has reared more than 30 cubs.

The team uses radio collars and tags to GPS-track the cubs after they are released back into the wild, near where they were rescued. They track the grizzlies for years to monitor them and make sure they are steering clear of humans.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee of success with such a pioneering program. One of the five cubs did not survive the helicopter journey to the release site. “It really puts a damper on the whole release when something like that happens,” said Dr. Ciarniello.

Based on data from their GPS collars, the four surviving cubs seem to be doing well in the forest, and are in excellent health. The team hopes to use the results of this project to set the standard for grizzly bear rehabilitation and create new sustainable practices to better the future of the species.

Next Up

Giant Pandas are No Longer Endangered

After decades of work trying to save the giant panda, Chinese officials have announced the species is no longer endangered.

The King of Chunks Has Been Crowned

A four-time champion, 480 Otis proved that age is just a number and appetite is the real judge of awesomeness.

Biden Summit Commits Nations to Less Pollution and a Brighter Future

President Biden catapulted the US back into its international climate change commitments on Earth Day 2021 with a wide-ranging summit on industrial emissions, clean technologies, job creation, and innovation. Ambitious action on greenhouse gases was announced, with promises to reduce emissions by 50-52% by 2030.

Climate Strikes: Rapid Action Needed to Stop Environmental Catastrophe

Saving the world is not an easy job, but cutting greenhouse gas emissions and limiting climate change is action the planet urgently needs, say scientists.

Bison are on the Move in Romania

The first bison relocation in Europe of its kind has been hailed a success after seven male individuals were transported from Germany and set free in Bulgaria earlier this summer.

The Battle is on to Save North Carolina's Rare Red Wolf

There are less than 10 wild red wolves left in the world and there’s a fierce battle going on to save them. The wolves, a rare red species, are only found in North Carolina, despite having once roamed throughout the eastern and south central US.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is Officially Extinct, Along with 22 Other Species

Preserved too late, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared almost two dozen previously endangered species as extinct, underscoring a larger problem of climate change and habitat loss in America.

We’re Weighing In On The Heaviest Competition of the Season: Fat Bear Week

All the bear booties of the world, unite for Fat Bear Week.

An Inspiration for All: Rosie the Penguin

Rosie the Riveter, meet your adorable present-day inspiration, Rosie the penguin from the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Watch the 24/7 Brood X Cicada Cam

After 17 long years the Brood X cicadas are emerging from the ground to begin their new lifecycle. During CICADA WEEK, check in on some live events in some cicada dense areas of the US. Watch the 24/7 LIVE CICADA CAM starting Monday, May 24 at 9A ET through Sunday, May 30 at 11P ET.

Related To: