Rescued bears ‘Gwaay Taan’ and ‘Taan Sqwaana’ return to Haida Gwaii

Two orphaned black bears are home after wintering at Smithers’ Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter.

Somewhere on the wild west coast, a pair of orphaned black bears are back home to fish and forage on their own.

Named Gwaii Taan (Island Bear) and Taan Sqwaana (Other Bear) by Haida elders, the yearling brother and sister bears looked underfed and at risk of getting hit by a car when they were found wandering near Skidegate last November.

But thanks to volunteers, the two were safely captured by a conservation officer and taken to the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers for a pretty easy winter.

Last week, the pair got a final boat ride aboard the Highland Ranger before they were released at a food-rich and secluded spot on the west coast of Graham Island.

“They came to us for a bit of a break, and now they have to fend for their own food again — no more deliveries!” joked Angelika Langen, who co-founded the Northern Lights Wildlife Society with her husband Peter nearly 30 years ago.

RELATED: Two orphan bear cubs travel from Haida Gwaii to Smithers

Langen said orphaned bear cubs are often undernourished if they are found in the fall. Taan Sqwaana was about 50 pounds underweight in November.

At the shelter, the two Haida Gwaii bears joined 11 others that were fed throughout the winter so they could catch up with other bears by spring. Another 27 bears at the shelter went into hibernation as usual.

But even the non-hibernating group slowed down their activity, Langen said. They basically spent the winter sleeping in dens between snack breaks.

Langen said the society was happy the Haida Nation was so involved in the rescue and rehabilitation. Haida volunteers not only made sure they were rescued, but also donated some much-appreciated fish to help fatten them up, and then chose the best spot to release them.

Langen said Gwaii Taan was the first off the boat last week — he jumped straight into the water and ran onto shore without looking back. His sister Taan Sqwaana paused to sniff around her brother’s cage before she followed.

Gwaii Taan gets ready to roam (Northern Lights Wildlife Society/Submitted)

Black bears are solitary animals, but siblings often stay together for a while after a release, Langen said. Sometimes they even hibernate together for the first winter.

Langen and her colleagues did go on land to quickly look in on the two, and soon found Gwaii Taan up a tree.

“He was just looking down at us, really ticked off that we followed him,” she said.

Both the rescued bears have ear tags, microchips, and lip tattoos that should tell the Northern Lights Wildlife Society how they fared if ever they are found again.

“It’s wonderful information to see that an animal survived out there, didn’t get in trouble, was looking good and healthy,” Langen said.

“We really appreciate when any information is shared with us, even if people might think it’s really sad because something died. It sure is, but it still gives us a lot of valuable information about the program that we’re running.”

After rehabilitating over 450 bears, Langen said the rescues do occasionally get into trouble, but no more than wild bears do. Great care is taken at the shelter not to habituate the bears to people, but even wild bears can’t help coming in close when people leave their garbage in easy reach.

“We have a friend in New Hampshire who says, ‘You know, put a couple $100 bills on your lawn and you get a lot of nuisance neighbours,’ ” Langen said.

“For bears, attractants are like that.”

Bears can live long, healthy lives near towns and villages so long as people take care to keep attractants locked up.

“There is no real wilderness anymore — we’re everywhere,” Langen said. “I think we just need to learn and teach the younger generation to respect that, and then co-existence is quite possible.”

For more information or to donate to the Northern Wildlife Society, visit wildlifeshelter.com. The first season of Wild Bear Rescue, a TV series about the shelter’s work, is now streaming on Animal Planet, which will air season two later this year.

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Gwaii Taan gets ready to roam. Northern Lights Wildlife Society photo

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