I wrote a post a year ago about three orphaned cubs that entered our lives when a resident hunter killed their mother. Last spring, my husband, Mike Munsey watched a hunter shoot a bear near a den, but Mike didn’t know it was a sow with cubs until several days later when one of our guides saw a newborn cub peer out of the den. It is illegal to shoot a sow with cubs, but the hunter was apparently unaware the bear he shot had cubs. Mike called Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Nate Svoboda and asked for permission to rescue the tiny cubs from their den. The helpless newborn cubs had been without food and water for several days, and Nate didn’t think they would survive, but he gave Mike permission to attempt a rescue.
There is an abundance of bears in zoos across the country. Bears live a long time, and they eat a lot of food, so they are expensive to maintain. Not many zoos are looking for bears, and unless The Department of Fish and Game has a specific request from a zoo with a suitable bear-habitat exhibit, they cannot rescue bears from the wilderness, even if they know the bears won’t survive on their own. When Mike called Nate, he expected to be told to let nature take its course, and he was pleasantly surprised when Nate gave the go-ahead for the rescue.
Mike radioed our guide Harry Dodge and Harry, another guide, and one of our hunters climbed to the den and captured the three cubs. The cubs were caked with mud, dehydrated, and hungry. The guys each put a cub in his backpack and hiked down to the beach. From there, the cubs were brought back to our lodge where they spent the night. The following day, Nate and a local pilot flew out to our lodge, put the cubs in a big cage, and flew them back to Kodiak. From there, they were flown to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage where they were nursed back to health.
The cubs stayed at the Alaska Zoo for several months, and we watched frequent videos of them on the nightly news as they continued to grow. The videos showed the cubs wrestling and playing, and the sight of them looking healthy and playful always brought tears to my eyes.
This past fall, two of the cubs were moved to the Wildwood Zoo in Marshfield, Wisconsin. A few months later, the other cub was sent to the Toledo Zoo. The Wildwood Zoo had just completed a beautiful, large bear enclosure, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and the two cubs were greeted as celebrities in Marshfield. The zoo held a contest to name the cubs, and the winning names were: Munsey and Boda. Munsey was of course named after Mike, and Boda was named after Nate Svoboda. Check out the Wildwood Zoo website to see photos of Munsey and Boda, and while you are there take a look at the beautiful Kodiak Bear Exhibit. The cub that went to the Toledo Zoo was named Dodge after Harry Dodge, the guide who helped rescue the cubs from the den. Mike, Nate, and Harry are all very proud that the cubs were named after them, and we are thrilled that the little guys (all three are males) are thriving.
When those dirty little cubs were visitors at our lodge, the largest weighed only 12 lbs. The latest report we received on the cubs at the Wildwood Zoo is that they now weigh 175 lbs. I’ve heard several people comment that it’s sad they couldn’t be re-released into the wilderness, but that was never an option. Cubs learn from their mothers how to interact with other bears, avoid danger, procure food, and how to hibernate. These bears have lived in zoos nearly their entire lives, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game only sends bears to zoos with first-rate bear enclosures. These cubs now have the mission of teaching thousands of people about bears, about Kodiak, and about the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. I have no doubt that all three will do a good job.
The photo at the top of this post was taken last year when Nate was putting the cubs in the plane to fly them to Kodiak. The other photo in this post is of two unrelated one-year-old cubs and their mother. This photo was taken in August, so the cubs were a few months older than the orphan cubs.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers. It didn’t occur to me when I wrote this update that I would be posting it on Mother’s Day. I hope you will find it a story with a sad beginning but a happy ending.
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