Orphaned bear cubs find temporary homes at the Alaska Zoo

This summer, an unusual number of orphaned bear cubs have landed at the Alaska Zoo, eventually destined for facilities in the U.S. and Canada.

Seven bear cubs – five black bears and two brown bears — have fallen into the zoo's care.

Patrick Lampi, executive director at the zoo, said that in his 31 years at the Alaska Zoo, he's never seen so many bears taken in during one summer.

That's because bears aren't taken in unless other facilities have permanent placements for them. It's unusual for so many zoos to have vacancies, said Shannon Jensen, zoo curator.

"There's only so many homes out there for bears," she said. And once a facility receives a bear, it can live for 20 years, she said.

Last Thursday, two of the black bear cubs were put on a plane to go to the San Francisco Zoo. When the five other cubs will head out hasn't been decided yet, according to Lampi.

Three black bear cubs are headed to the Greater Vancouver Zoo; the brown bears are headed to the Oakland Zoo.


The bears have been trickling in to the Alaska Zoo this summer. The first arrived on May 18 — a male black bear found wandering near someone's home in Valdez.

"Very weak and underweight, (it) did not even struggle when the biologist picked it up," Lampi wrote.

The second arrived June 24, a female from Juneau, also found orphaned.

Five of the cubs come from incidents involving trash in Anchorage's Hillside neighborhood.

A black bear sow was shot after acting aggressively toward a homeowner who had tried to scare her away from some garbage, said Ken Marsh, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Her three cubs were taken to the zoo.

Then, two brown bear cubs were taken in after a sow was shot and killed in the same neighborhood on July 5. Fish and Game had been getting reports for weeks of the brown bear getting into trash, Marsh said.

"These really are, sad to say, routine agency killings of bears in the area each summer," Marsh said.

[As Anchorage's bear problem intensifies, a solution inches closer to reality]

Since July 1, 14 black bears and one brown bear have been killed in the Anchorage area, a large area ranging from the south bank of the Knik River to Portage, according to Marsh. This includes one incident where a black bear sow and three cubs were killed on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

If no zoo placements for bear cubs can be found, they are euthanized, Marsh said.

Euthanizing cubs is "probably the saddest thing our people here have to do," Marsh said. "All because (the bears) got used to getting into trash."

Laurel Andrews

Laurel Andrews was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in October 2018.