Nova Scotia has denied a wildlife sanctuary's request to be allowed to care for orphaned black bear cubs and then release them back into the wild.
"It's very, very sad news … we've been trying to make change for a while, since we started 25 years ago," Hope Swinimer, the founder of Hope for Wildlife, told CBC's Information Morning on Thursday.
"It would be our dream to be able to rehabilitate all indigenous wildlife of Nova Scotia."
Nova Scotia is one of a handful of provinces and territories that does not rehabilitate black bears that are injured, or cubs if they are orphaned.
The Lands and Forestry Department claims the bears could become dangerous if they become too comfortable with human contact during rehabilitation and are then released back into the wild.
The department instead euthanizes the bears, a move that stoked controversy in June of 2020, when an orphaned black bear cub was taken from Hope for Wildlife and destroyed.
About a month later, Swinimer submitted a proposal to the provincial government, asking permission to rehabilitate orphaned black bear cubs.
The proposal outlined their rehabilitation plan, including what enclosures would look like, how cubs would be fed, and even how the sanctuary would keep the animal wild by limiting contact with humans.
"It's been proven — as with most animals — if you follow certain procedures and just usually give one to two caretakers to that animal, they will become familiar with those one or two people, but with no one else," Swinimer said.
The proposal also suggested a one-year pilot project that would rehabilitate orphaned cubs and then track their movement and contact with humans once released.
Still, her proposal was denied on Wednesday.
"Our geographic size, coupled with typical bear behaviour and biology, do not enable bears to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild in a way that provides an acceptable level of risk," an emailed statement from the Department of Lands and Forestry said.
"Once bears have lost their fear of humans, they become unpredictable and pose a public safety concern."
Swinimer disagrees. She said research from across Canada shows that black bear cubs can be safely rehabilitated and released without posing a threat to the public.
About three years ago, Swinimer said Hope for Wildlife was able to rehabilitate a black bear cub before it was transferred to New Brunswick to be released.
Unfortunately, she said, the bear escaped during the transfer and had to be euthanized in New Brunswick.
"Sadly, it didn't go well, but we certainly proved our ability to keep an animal wild," she said.
Swinimer said she does agree that geographically, Nova Scotia is "small and fragmented" and lacks large wild spaces to release the animals.
"We do have that working against us, but I think it's something we can overcome," she said.
Swinimer said she asked for the department's research on the dangers of black bear rehabilitation — to compare with her own research — but it was not provided.
She said she's disappointed with the outcome.
"We feel we have the capability. We certainly have the expertise ... we have the space," she said. "We have to know how, so I really wish we could have gotten the opportunity."
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