A female bear cub rescued from the 416 Fire survived the winter in an artificial den and emerged in April with another orphaned bear.
The bears’ first moments outside their den were captured on a trail camera set up out of curiosity, said Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The camera shows the bears investigating the area before returning to the den for a bit, he said. When the bears permanently left the den, the two lingered in the area for a while near the human-made den in the San Juan Mountains, west of Durango.
CPW officials have never set up a similar camera, Thorpe said. The agency shared photos of the bears this week on Facebook.
The light brown female bear gained international acclaim after she was rescued from the Junction Creek area with badly burned paws.
She was relocated to the Frisco Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center near Del Norte for rehabilitation and placed in the artificial den in January. She was placed with another orphaned cub that she was raised with in the Frisco center. Placing the two bears together mimics how sibling bears stay together in the wild for a while after their mother ceases to care for them, Thorpe said.
“We are setting them up for success,” he said.
The agency doesn’t have good records about the long-term success of cubs raised in captivity that are then relocated into the wild, he said. Certainly, the yearling bears will face challenges because they didn’t learn to forage in the wild from a mother bear, he said. But that doesn’t mean their futures are hopeless.
“They are such smart creatures, they are still able to figure that stuff out,” he said.
Natural food sources for bears, such as chokecherries and service berries, should also be plentiful this season, after a wet winter, he said.
Now that the bears have been released, CPW doesn’t have any way to track them, he said.
“They have to run the risks any other natural bear would have to run,” he said.