A pair of endangered brown bear cubs (named Little John and Nikitas ) have been released back into the wild after nine months care and rehabilitation at the ARCTUROS Environmental Centre in northern Greece. The cubs had been found orphaned at a couple of months of age and would not have survived in the wild without their mother.
The bear cubs were brought to the ARCTUROS’ bear rehabilitation facilities early in 2011 where they learned essential survival skills in a large enclosure of natural forest with conditions similar to the natural habitat of the brown bear. Prior to their release, a spot was selected in the bear's natural range in the forests of North-Western Greece and a hibernation den was dug for the bears. Due to the presence of a metre of snow on the frozen ground and the need to set up a suitably durable webcam inside the den, the process took three days.
The young bears were then sedated and examined by experts from the Veterinary School of Aristotle at the University of Thessaloniki. Although the young bears weighed only 50kg each, four men were needed to carry the sedated bear cubs through the deep snow to the den. After waking from sedation, the bears briefly explored their new home and returned to hibernation exactly as the Arcturos staff had hoped. The cubs are being monitored in their den via the webcam and they will be tracked by GPS-enabled collars when they wake during spring and renew their lives in the forests of Greece.
Commenting, Scientific Director of ARCTUROS, Alexandros Karamanlidis said “This was the first time that ARCTUROS had rehabilitated bear cubs for release back into the wild”, adding that “This has been a very innovative project for Greece and a valuable tool for conservation of brown bear populations throughout Europe.” Brown bears are amongst the most severely endangered mammals in Greece where less than 300 survive in the wild.