As a wildlife rehabilitator since 1978, founder Sally Maughan started The Idaho Black Bear Rehab program in 1989 with the arrival of the first orphaned black bear cub. She began developing rehab techniques for orphaned cubs at a time when it was believed impossible to successfully release any bear raised by a human. Prior to that, the only rehab available to orphaned cubs was the occasional bear biologist. Wildlife agencies believed that an orphaned cub raised by a human would either starve to death or become a problem bear if released. Then, as now, it was difficult to find a zoo or wildlife park that would take these orphaned cubs. The only other options available were to humanely euthanize the cub or leave it in hopes it would survive. Chances are lingering starvation or depredation would kill the cub.
It was understandable that state wildlife agencies had concerns about releasing a bear capable of doing serious damage or hurting someone, especially since they hadn't tried it. As the primary caretaker of these orphaned cubs, Sally knew it was important to learn as much as she could about bears to prevent that from happening. She recognized there were many variables that could impact the success. Certainly it was expected there might be some failures, but hopefully they would be few and far between.
Sally started her journey by learning as much as she could from John Beecham, one of the top black bear experts in the country. She read everything she could find on bears to help her establish a platform from which to begin the rehab program. After spending thousands of hours observing the cubs during all times of day and night during the first five years, it was easy to recognize what behavior to expect and when to expect it. She was able to identify the stages of development the cubs went through during the first year of their life. It became easier to pinpoint unusual behavior, determine the cause, and try to offset it using various rehab techniques. She also came to understand there was a strong relationship between the personalities of each bear and the likelihood of that bear causing a problem when released.
Today the IBBR accepts orphaned cubs from Idaho and the surrounding Western states. While we cover all the rehab expenses for each bear during the time they are with us, we do require that each bear return to it's home state for release. When possible with the use of volunteers, we will assist in transporting the cubs to Idaho by meeting the officers part way. Depending on the schedule of our release team, we also offer wildlife agencies assistance releasing cubs when they leave the program.
Since 1989, IBBR has accepted cubs from Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Idaho. As wildlife agencies become comfortable with the success of rehab and release, it is our hope they will consider starting their own rehab program. Our role then becomes one of consultation with both the wildlife agencies and the wildlife rehabilitators. Finding a wildlife rehabilitator to take orphaned cubs can be difficult. Most take care of many species and devoting the time, money, and work to focus on bears for eight or nine months of the year isn't always possible. Understandably, wildlife agencies prefer someone experienced in handling bears. Finding that experience is unlikely since orphaned cubs in the past were never considered candidates for rehab. Today there are still a very limited number of wildlife rehabilitators allowed to take orphaned cubs.