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Bear cubs orphaned near Cranbrook preparing for hibernation

The two little bear cubs, Jo and Fisher, that found themselves orphaned and starving back in May, are doing well up at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society shelter in Smithers, B.C.

"They're in the big group again, both of them," said Angelika Langen, manager at the wildlife shelter. "They are right in there, playing and bouncing around. We have no concerns with them whatsoever."

Fisher had been quite sick back in June. Once he stabilized they reunited him and Jo, and in the middle of July they put them back into the group. They also weighed them and they both came in at 30 pounds.

"So they're really healthy and they are back in the group," she said. "They are  eating like mad because they are getting ready for hibernation."

Once October comes true shelter will mimic the conditions in the wild. The food will become more sparse and less nutrition. That combined with the dropping temperature will signal to the bears bodies that it is time to go into hibernation.

"Usually by the beginning of November they are all going into hibernation — the ones that we get early enough that have the right weight. The ones that we get later in the fall they are going to stay awake and we will keep feeding them. But Jo and Fisher we totally expect them to eat up right now and go into hibernation."

The bears have boxes in their enclosures, so the shelter provides lots of straw and branches.

"They drag it into the boxes, they are very specific on how they want it. They do it all themselves, they don't like it when you do it for them. Each bear has their own preferences how they want it done. Usually there is a group of them that hibernates together. We offer enough that they could go by themselves, but they never do that."

She said there is always a grouping of five or six, and they've even had as many as 14 bears in one box. She said she's not quite sure how they manage to fit.

"They seem to like that and we don't interfere," she said. "They get to choose."

She said the one thing they do is change the food the bears receive.

"Our food becomes less nutritious, so we wouldn't feed grapes or watermelon or pineapple anymore. We would go to just some stale apples and no more fish and meat and bring the protein down and offer some grains. The stuff that keeps them alive but doesn't really taste that good."

She says at that point the bears' systems starts kicking in and tells them it's time for hibernation. At that point they start getting slow and only coming out once every couple of days. Then they are gone altogether until the spring.

"The combination of cooler temperatures and the lack of highly nutritious food kind of kicks the system into gear," Langen said. "If you keep feeding them, then they kind of semi-hibernate and they keep coming out to eat but then sleep most of the time. But if they are heavy enough in the fall, then what you get is really fat bears in the spring because they keep gaining weight."

For more info or to keep tabs on the many bears currently at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society visit their Facebook page.

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