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Utahn preps bear cub for the wild

Published: Sunday, Aug. 17 2008 12:40 a.m. MDT

Five-month-old Montie, an orphaned black bear, keeps cool in her cage at the Great Basin Wildlife Rescue.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — A word of caution to precede this report: while watching 5-month-old Montie bathe and flick excess water from her cinnamon-colored fur, you might be tempted to enter her enclosure and try to brush her like a dog.

Suppress that urge and admire her from a respectable distance — preferably from behind a chain-link fence. Cuddly though she may seem, Montie is, in fact, a born-in-the-wild black bear cub, and the first cub to be nurtured by a local volunteer wildlife rehabilitator at the Great Basin Wildlife Rescue.

"I'm the only one," Spanish Fork resident Patti Richards said of her current status as Utah's sole certified bear rehabilitator. "There just aren't many idiots," she adds with a laugh.

Richards said she started rehabilitating wildlife five years ago after reading a report on the scarcity of certified bear rehabilitators. She earned her certificate of registration from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and began with raptors and small mammals because she lived in a subdivision and couldn't take in bears at that time. Three years ago, she moved to her current location along 2000 West in Spanish Fork where she takes in around 300 animals a year and recently received her first bear — Montie.

Earlier this summer, Monticello residents spotted then 4-month-old Montie foraging through their garbage, said DWR southeast regional supervisor Bill Bates. Suspecting the cub was orphaned and fearing for her well-being, DWR personnel decided to catch her.

"At that age, they just can't care for themselves," said John Fairchild, central regional supervisor for DWR.

DWR personnel trapped the cub, and she was transported to Great Basin Wildlife Rescue.

When Montie — named for the town in which she was found — arrived at the rescue, she was anxious and wouldn't bathe. In the absence of a mother figure, Montie didn't know how to cool down on a hot summer day. She'd pace back and forth in her pen, panting heavily.

One Saturday night, Richards sat by the bathtub and threw marshmallows in until Montie drew near. The cub climbed up on the edge of the tub, teetering back and forth while she leaned forward to snap up the sweet, puffy treats. Richards snuck up behind her and pushed Montie in the tub. The cub hit the water with a splash.

"She jumped out of the tub, stood up ... and said 'Huh!"' Richards laughed. "She was so mad at me."

But Montie started bathing after that.

Richards said she's received a lot of community support. Dedicated Hunters, a DWR-sponsored program, built Montie's enclosure, and other organizations contribute money or items to help. Without continued support, the rescue might fold, she said.

"This place is really a community effort," she said.

Montie will probably stay at Great Basin Wildlife Rescue until she turns 7 months old, at which point she'll probably be turned over to DWR for reintroduction into the wild. Richards said she could watch Montie in her enclosure for hours, but she won't be sad to see her leave. Montie was, after all, born in the wild, and that's where she belongs.

"What's sad to see is an animal that doesn't want to be here," Richards said.


E-mail: jdana@desnews.com

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