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One little bear, one big outrage in Manitoba

Five-week-old Little Makoon (Cree for little bear) plays with a ball at the Dubois home in St. Malo, Man., on March 28. The black bear cub has been released back into the wild despite concerns that it may not be able to survive on its own.

Rachel Walford/THE CANADIAN PRESS

For a bear that's just six-months old, Makoon has certainly caused a sensation.

The Manitoba cub has sparked protests, petitions, international outrage, threats of lawsuits and more than a few conspiracy theories. And it's all because Manitoba wildlife officials set Makoon free this week, about three months after he was found on a country road struggling to survive.

"Makoon has become a symbol of what's wrong with governments in the way they handle wildlife," said Michael O'Sullivan, chairman and chief executive of the Humane Society of Canada, which is considering legal action over Makoon's case.

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Mr. O'Sullivan and others believe the bear, that weighs 13 kilograms, was released too soon and has no chance of surviving. They want him recaptured and sent to a sanctuary in Ontario that would gradually reintroduce him into the wild in a year or so. Manitoba wildlife officials insist Makoon was ready to go and has as good a chance as any wild bear of surviving, which is about 50 per cent at that age.

"The main goal of wildlife rehabilitation isn't to guarantee an animal 100 per cent survival," said James Duncan, director of the wildlife branch with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. "It's to give it a second chance at being a wild animal."

The case has attracted international attention. More than 10,000 people around the world have signed petitions protesting against the government's actions and demanding Premier Greg Selinger get involved. "There is no justification at all for releasing him this soon," said Judy Stearns of Winnipeg, who organized a petition and a rally in support of Makoon.

The man who found Makoon is also outraged at what has happened. René Dubois spotted the cub in a ditch while driving along a highway last March near St. Malo, Man., about 65 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg. He kept the bear for nearly two weeks (his granddaughter came up with the name) before turning him over to wildlife officials who took Makoon to a special facility at the Winnipeg Zoo. At the zoo, wildlife officials kept him away from the public, refusing even to allow photos. This week, they issued a press release announcing that Makoon and another cub had been released in an undisclosed area of the province.

Officials said they were only trying to ensure Makoon did not become habituated to humans, but Mr. Dubois is convinced they secretly killed the bear. "I don't think he ever made it to the zoo," Mr. Dubois said. "It's a big cover-up."

Mr. Duncan said he understands the passion of those protesting against the bear's release. He noted that about 10,000 cubs are born every year in the province, and up to 5,000 don't survive a year. And he said the province gets about 10,000 calls annually about injured or orphaned animals, and rehabilitation facilities are limited.

"Perhaps [the protesters] could consider supporting their local wildlife rehabilitation facility," he said. "That would be a very positive outcome from this whole focused interest on this one bear."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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