Rehabilitation and reintroduction of captive-reared bears: feasibility and methodology for European brown bears Ursus arctos



Bears need to learn appropriate survival and behavioural skills in the first 1 or 2 years of life. They can acquire those skills fully only if raised by their mothers in the natural habitat. Releasing captive-born and/or hand-reared cubs threatens their life expectancy because individuals will have problems finding food and shelter, and experience intra- and inter-specific predation. Additionally, bears reared in captivity may cause behavioural and genetic pollution of the indigenous free-living population. The release of bears cannot be called ‘reintroduction’. The surplus of bears currently in captivity should be resolved by control of reproduction and investment in efforts to prevent situations whereby wild-born bears become orphaned and captive. The existing captive population should be given the best possible care and be used as ambassadors to raise public awareness about situation of free-living conspecifics. The above statements are corroborated by experiences with European brown bears Ursus arctos.