06/20/2012 10:34 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba chief wades into debate over little bear's release into wild

WINNIPEG - The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has joined the chorus of people criticizing the province's decision to release a five-month-old black bear called Makoon into the wild.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak issued a release Wednesday saying he’s upset and wants the government to re-examine its decision.

Makoon was just a few weeks old when he was found in a ditch in the St. Malo area in March.

After he was nursed back to health at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, some animal advocates wanted the bear to go to a sanctuary, but on Tuesday officials with Manitoba Conservation released him into the wild.

The Winnipeg Humane Society called it a death sentence, saying the small bear will likely either be killed as prey or will starve to death.

Dr. James Duncan said the point of wildlife rehabiliation is to give animals the reasonable chance of living in the wild, and Makoon's odds are better now than they would have been before.

“I am very upset that this government turned a blind eye and ear to solid scientific evidence and the call of thousands of Manitobans on the release of this baby bear cub into nature at this time,” said Nepinak.

“The name Makoon is tied to my family name of ‘Niibin Makoonse,’ which is the root of my family name many generations ago. As such, I feel a strong connection to these animals.”

He said aboriginal people are taught to treat bears with respect and reverence and the province’s actions indicates a complete lack of respect not only for the cub, but a complete lack of appreciation for the cultural significance the bear holds in First Nations culture.

(Winnipeg Free Press)

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