The black nose sticking out of the feeding hole in the bear barrel twitches, inhaling the multitude of new smells: cedars, wildflowers, road dust. Then a familiar smell — me. The light brown eyes find mine. Berbere, the black bear yearling I’ve been looking after since he arrived terribly small and underweight at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter late last fall, looks at me full of confusion.
He is locked into the barrel with three other yearlings from his enclosure and has been transported over a thousand kilometers back into his home region. I tell the half grown cubs again that everything will be okay, that soon they will be free. If only they could understand.
Or maybe they do know, because they have been travelling extremely well despite the fact that we are transporting a total of 10 bears in two barrels and three boxes. There are no fights, not even stressed moans. I am torn between overwhelming joy that our bears are finally free to go, and overwhelming sadness that I will never see them again, will never know what becomes of them.
The first bear peeks out of the now open door of the barrel, sniffing, hesitating. A cautious jump and he’s on the ground, starts scratching in the soil. His sister follows. The third bear jumps out into freedom, sends the other two running.
Finally Berbere comes to the open door. He stops, sniffs the ground. I hold my breath. He hops down, looks around and hears one of the other yearlings huff in the trees. As if that is his signal to go, Berbere starts trotting off. He briefly glances towards me and seconds later breaks into a run. A jump into the undergrowth, and he’s gone from my life, disappeared into a future without fences and food buckets.
I hope his will be a rich and full life. Berbere and hundreds of other animals wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for people calling in their sighting of an animal in distress, and the CO’s decision to send the orphans to Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter founded by Peter and Angelika Langen 27 years ago. Wildlife rehab not only helps us to better understand these animals, and to mitigate some of the negative impact we as humans have on wildlife populations — it also highlights the incredible acts of kindness people are capable of. Berbere is one more symbol of that.