Shaguyik, a 2-year-old, 300-pound Kodiak brown bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, escaped the facility and has been missing since last week.
Something spooked the bear while power to the electric fence surrounding her enclosure was shut down for maintenance, and she made a run for it. The animal was last seen in the mountains between Placer and Portage valleys.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was informed of the escape the day it happened. The department followed up with an aerial search, but that has now been called off, state biologist Dave Battle said.
"The weather got in the way," he said. "By the time it cleared, she could have traveled for miles and miles. Or she could be huddled under a spruce or found a moose carcass coming out of the snow or been killed by an avalanche."
Fish and Game biologist Jessy Coltrane told The Associated Press, "Young bears in general have a high mortality rate, even ones that are born in the wild and live with their mother. ...There is a chance she's already been eaten by another bear, or will be eaten by another bear."
Complicating the search is the fact that hundred of wild bears around Southcentral Alaska are just now coming out of hibernation. "If we spotted a bear matching that description, it would be difficult to tell if it was her or some other bear," Battle said.
Shaguyak ("ghost") was an orphaned cub on Kodiak Island in December 2010 when she was found and brought to the conservation facility.
Along with Taquoka, a male cub also found on Kodiak about the same time (though in a different location), she was scheduled to be moved to the Orsa Bear Park in Sweden in June. The park, in the resort city of Gronklitt, is said to be Europe's largest such facility.
This winter's record snow presented a number of challenges for the conservation center, spokesman Ethan Tyler said. Power went out in the heavy snowfall, but was maintained with a backup generator. But as more snow piled up, it "made the fences pretty short," Tyler said.
The center had to clear the snow from the inside of the fences; all of the interior lines were shoveled out, Tyler said. But they had to shut off power to the fence for maintenance work. Tyler said the maintenance issues were also caused by heavy snow, though he didn't know the details.
"We don't know what scared her," Tyler said.
In a press statement issued, the center's executive director, Mike Miller, said it was the first time an animal had escaped from the facility.
"If someone sees the bear, the best thing to do is keep your distance and contact the authorities," Miller said.
Unlike a completely wild bear, Shaguyik will not necessarily be cautious around humans or cars. "She's been habituated," said Tyler. The animal has become accustomed to encountering people and cars at a close distance at the public Portage facility.
"We don't think of it as a big safety concern," Battle said. "It would be very difficult to say what this bear's behavior might be compared to a wild animal. We always tell people to exercise caution around any bear."
Shaguyik is called "blond" because she is very lightly-colored, Tyler said. She is not collared and has no identifying tags, though she does have an implanted microchip ID.
Anyone sighting a bear in the Portage Valley area is asked to call the Fish and Game at 907-267-2811 or Wildlife Conservation Center at 907-301-7942.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.