06/19/2012 02:11 EDT | Updated 08/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Release of Manitoba bear cub 'a death sentence:' humane society

WINNIPEG - A black bear cub that has become something of a celebrity in Manitoba has been released back into the wild despite concerns that it may not be able to survive on its own.

"He's going to be either preyed upon and killed or he's going to slowly starve to death, which will take 30 to 40 days," Bill McDonald, executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society, said Tuesday.

"This is a death sentence by the province."

With his cute furry face and tiny body, Makoon gained fame shortly after being found abandoned in a ditch near St. Malo in March. He was taken in by a local resident, who fed and kept the cub in his house.

The bear was seized by Manitoba Conservation and spent the last few weeks at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. He and another black bear cub were taught skills such as hunting for food.

The province planned all along to release Makoon into the wild when he reached the age of five months, but many people fought the move. Dozens protested at the zoo. Thousands signed an online petition. The humane society was looking at getting a court injunction, McDonald said.

The fuss seemed to come as a bit of a surprise to conservation officials.

"Every year in Manitoba, hundreds and hundreds of animals are rehabilitated and released," said James Duncan, the department's wildlife director.

"Not everybody may feel the same about something like a reptile — a baby snake or a baby turtle — but this is quite a demonstration of how interested people are in wildlife, and that's just very impressive. We share that in common."

Duncan said Makoon and the other cub are both above average size for their age, weighing almost 14 kilograms, and have the ability to survive on their own.

"They were fed in a manner that required them to smell and search and locate food, and those are some of the survival skills that develop," Duncan said.

Makoon and the other cub are being released together in a remote part of the province where biologists have found plentiful amounts of berries fish and eggs, Duncan added.

But McDonald is not convinced.

"If (Makoon) sees an adult black bear, what will he do? Will he walk up to it? If it's an adult male black bear, he's going to get eaten."

While Makoon headed back into the Manitoba forest Tuesday, the legal battle over the cub may not be over.

"I will be talking with our legal counsel," McDonald said.