04/03/2012 04:30 EDT | Updated 06/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Rescued bear cub named Makoon a celebrity in southern Manitoba

ST. MALO, Man. - About 600 people have come knocking on Rene Dubois's door in southern Manitoba asking if they can hold and take photos of his new baby.

Sure, he replies. As long as the little guy's not napping.

Makoon, a black bear cub about the same size as Dubois's pet Chihuahua, has spent the past week living at his home in St. Malo, a small French community about 70 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

Dubois, a retired construction worker, says he was driving out of town to visit a cousin on March 25 when he spotted the tiny ball of fur in a ditch along the highway.

He waited to see if a mother bear was nearby, then went to take a closer look. The male cub appeared to be about five weeks old and looked to be starving to death. He could barely stand up and his tongue was turning black.

Dubois picked him up and took him back to his truck. The bear sat curled up in a corner on the front seat.

Dubois said when he got home, his wife Jeanne was busy watching TV. He excitedly told her to come out to the garage to see what he'd brought back.

"Holy smokes, What are you doing with that?" she asked him.

Dubois told her the story while the cub eagerly lapped up two bowls of milk. He said his wife agreed they would nurse the animal back to health while they found it a new home.

Dubois said he later contacted a conservation official who told him he shouldn't have taken the bear from the wild in the first place. He was then told the animal would be destroyed.

"Well, I saved it's life. I'm not gonna kill it," Dubois said.

He said he has since talked with officials at the Bear Creek Sanctuary near Barrie, Ont., and they may take the cub later this week. Dubois has offered to drive him as far as Thunder Bay.

Meanwhile, Makoon has become quite a celebrity in southern Manitoba. He has even appeared on a radio show in Steinbach.

Dubois said he isn't turning curious people away from his door. How often do you get a chance to hold a baby bear?

But if Makoon is sleeping, visitors have to wait. You can't wake him up, said Dubois, or he gets a bit growly.

Dubois feeds the cub apples, bananas and strawberries drizzled with honey. And every five hours, there's a baby bottle full of formula and milk.

Dubois has four grown children, so it's been awhile since he's had to wake up at 2:30 a.m. for a feeding. He and his wife are also sporting some tiny scratches on their arms from trying to nurse him.

"It's more work than a kid, let me tell you," said Dubois.

The bear spends most of his time in the garage. He's so smart, said Dubois, he's almost fully trained to go to the bathroom outside.

But he sleeps at night in a dog kennel inside the house. He and Tootsie, the Chihuahua, put up with each other but aren't the closest of friends.

Dubois said both animals have fallen asleep on the lap of his 10-year-old granddaughter. Another granddaughter, 16, came up with the name Makoon, an Ojibwa word meaning "little bear."

— by Chris Purdy in Edmonton