Price is right for black bear cub rehabilitation

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STONEWALL, Man. – Former television game show host and animal rights advocate Bob Barker is providing $50,000 to a Manitoba couple who want to build the province’s first black bear cub rehabilitation centre.

The former star of “The Price Is Right” is extending money from his foundation to Judy and Roger Stearns, who plan to set up the centre on their property north of Stonewall, about 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Judy Stearns says she and her husband, along with volunteers, hope to take in orphaned cubs and care for the animals until they reach about 36 kilograms and are ready for release into the wild.

Stearns says thanks to Barker’s generous contribution, along with assistance from Zoocheck Canada, the couple’s dream is closer to reality.

“My husband and I were going to be building the facility with our own funds,” Stearns said Wednesday. “Now it can be that much larger and more complex, and we can help the bears even more. It’s fabulous.”

Stearns has been involved with orphaned cub care for years. She said the couple felt inspired to pursue better ways of looking after young bears instead of putting them in zoos or euthanizing them, so she and her husband approached Zoocheck in 2012 for information and advice.

“Nothing has really happened or progressed in the last three years, so we said, ‘We have this property, the time and the interest, why not just do it ourselves?'”

Julie Woodyer, Zoocheck Canada’s campaigns director, said the organization contracted John Beecham, a biologist and renowned bear rehabilitation expert in Idaho, to help design the centre and develop protocols to support the animals’ needs and ensure public safety.

Beecham and Zoocheck met with the Stearns and provincial officials, checked the couple’s property and reviewed what the facility would look like. The Stearns had already started accumulating materials for the job and that’s when the organization decided to get behind them and contacted Barker, Woodyer said.

“He thought it was a great program and would be happy to help out,” she said. “He’s very generous and he’s the real deal. He puts his money where his mouth is.”

The centre is to have capacity for 10 cubs, although Woodyer said some years there may be no orphans to send to the Stearns.

Pending final approval from municipal and provincial government authorities, the couple hopes to have the facility running by next spring.

Barker, who is 92, said in a Zoocheck release that he was pleased to be able to support the Stearns’s efforts to ensure the cubs are not killed or put in zoos.

“A life in captivity for bears is a life filled with suffering, so giving orphaned bear cubs a second chance at a life in the wild is a campaign worth supporting,” he said.

Stearns said she doesn’t know if Barker will come to Manitoba to see their shelter.

“I can’t answer that. It would be fabulous. He’d be welcome and I’d love to see him here.”

— By Ken Trimble in Edmonton