POLITICS

Finding Makoon: Groups want bear cub recaptured; Manitoba says not possible

06/27/2012 12:50 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - Two groups are demanding Manitoba Conservation officials try to recapture two bear cubs returned to the wild.

But a government spokeswoman said Wednesday the request is not being considered and may not even be possible.

The bears weren't tagged when they were released in a remote location last week and can't be tracked, she said.

Even the man who first found one of the cubs and nicknamed him Makoon said the request is ridiculous.

"They'll never be able to catch him. It doesn't make sense," said Rene Dubois of St. Malo.

The retired construction worker found the five-week-old cub starving in a ditch along a highway in March. When he phoned a conservation officer, he was told the cub would be destroyed, so Dubois took him home to nurse him back to health.

The tiny ball of fur quickly became a national celebrity. Hundreds of visitors knocked on Dubois's door and asked to see Makoon. Videos of him circulated on the Internet.

A week later, conservation officers seized the bear and temporarily placed him at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo.

A heated debate ensued about what to do with him.

Animal advocates wanted him to go to a sanctuary in Ontario to grow more before being released late next year. But Manitoba Conservation officials planned to release the cub at home within a couple of months.

Thousands of people signed a petition asking the province to reconsider. The Winnipeg Humane Society decided it was going to go to court to try to get custody of the bear, but it never got that far.

On June 19, conservation officials announced Makoon and another rescued cub had been flown to a remote location and released. They said the bears were healthy and large for their size and had plenty of food sources in the area to help them survive.

The humane society called the move a "death sentence" for the cubs. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs joined the protest, saying the province had shown a lack of respect for the animals and their cultural significance in First Nations culture.

Now the humane society and the chiefs assembly have urged the province to get the bears back.

A rally was planned for Wednesday night outside the zoo to force the issue.

Humane society spokeswoman Aileen White admits the odds aren't good the two cubs can be found, but she wants the province to at least try.

"Even if it slim, I think that is the humane thing to do, because right now, it is cruel what they're facing."

She said supporters of the bears also want to see pictures of them being released back into the wild — proof the animals weren't secretly destroyed.

"There is this concern and people are wanting to see the pictures," she said. "We're being ignored and denied on so many fronts, it's stupefying."

Dubois said he believes Makoon was killed by officials long ago. He asked several times if he could see the cub while he was at the zoo but was always turned down.

"Everything was top secret," he said. "They're hiding something. That's for sure."

The government spokeswoman said conservation officials have always wanted the best for the animals and the cubs were indeed released back into the woods, although there are no photos to prove it.

It is not the department's practice to take photos of wild animals while they are being rehabilitated, she said.

— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton