An animal-rights group is mounting a push to free a captured kermode or "spirit" bear that's been held in captivity for a year.
The rare white-coated black bear, named Clover, has been in human hands since it was brought into the Northern Lights wildlife shelter in Smithers, B.C., as an orphaned cub last November, CBC News reported.
Northern Lights director Angelika Langren told the Globe and Mail that Clover was rehabilitated — having contact with only one keeper — and released with a radio collar to track his movements. But after three months the signals stopped.
Langen said she didn't go immediately to investigate because she thought steep terrain was blocking the signal. When she did, the collar — sans bear — was found near a newly established archeological dig.
"When we got there, we thought, 'oh, this is not good. We should probably re-collar him and move him to a place where he is not so close to all the people,'" Langen told the Globe.
But by then Clover had been trapped by provincial wildlife officers after hanging around the dig site and showing no fear of people, CBC News said.
"In normal circumstances such a bear would be killed as a nuisance bear, but given his status as a kermode or spirit bear, Clover was instead moved to the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops," Glenn Grant, the park's general manager, in a news release reported by CBC News.
Clover broke out of his new enclosure last month and spent a day roaming the nearby hills before being tranquilized and recaptured.
Clover's circumstances have upset Peter Hamilton, who heads the well-known animal-rights group Lifeforce.
"Give this bear freedom!" Hamilton pleaded in a letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader Adrian Dix, Hamilton.
"We don't need another exploited circus bear pacing back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. We don't need people profiting off the plight of this bear."
Hamilton told the Globe that 18-month-old Clover's label as a nuisance bear is a bad rap because previously he'd been lured into a bush camp so people could take his photograph.
"We've got to give the bear the opportunity for freedom, not lock it up just because some idiot started feeding it," Hamilton said.
But Grant said Clover wouldn't survive if he was released.
"He doesn't show any fear towards humans," Grant told The Canadian Press. "He'll still find his way back to human activity no matter where you let him go."
Langen said she agrees.
"There's no question about this. Letting him back out again would probably cause recurrence," she told the Globe.
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But Grant conceded that, as the only spirit bear in captivity, there might be something to Hamilton's claim that Clover could end up the star attraction at the Kamloops wildlife park.
"I anticipate enormous public interest," he told the Globe. "It's hard to quantify in dollars or visits, but we know there will be tour companies that will want to come to Kamloops to see this bear."
Experts estimate there are about 400 spirit bears, whose white coats are caused by a recessive gene, roaming coastal British Columbia. They're an important facet of First Nations mythology.