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Grizzly Rewild, a documentary about rewilding grizzly bears

Bear triplets (from left) Arthur, Isa and Raven. John Marriott photo.

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Mar 8, 2023

A documentary project was recently released on CBC and CBC Gem last week called Grizzly Rewild, which documents a first-time scientific study exploring whether orphaned grizzly cubs that have been raised by humans can survive in the wild.

The story follows five cubs that are reared at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, British Columbia which is North America’s only grizzly rewilding facility.

“After years of habitat destruction and overhunting, many of North America’s grizzly populations are endangered or under threat. When a mother grizzly dies, her orphaned cubs are either euthanized on the spot or sent to a zoo to live in captivity, because it has been assumed they cannot survive. The amazing team at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter believes orphaned grizzly cubs could potentially help rebuild North America’s threatened grizzly populations and we were able to catch some of their ground-breaking work in Grizzly Rewild,” said writer and director Brad Quenville.

He spoke about the filming process and how they worked to maintain distance from the bears in their enclosure, with the help of instruction from shelter owner Angelika Langen.

“She made It clear that we had to keep our distance from these bears. While we obviously didn’t go in the enclosure, we stayed well away from them. We only filmed the bears in the shelter when they were preoccupied with something else and from positions where they couldn’t see us,” added Quenville.

While filming, he said how shocked he was to find out how smart the animals were. The intelligence and curiosity of grizzly bears are also part of the reason they clash so often with humans according to Quenville.

“Bears get people scared and it gets them killed. It’s important to understand them better and realize that them investigating something doesn’t mean they are aggressive,” he said.

Quenville and his son Nick (director of photography), followed Langen as she tries to improve the grizzly cubs’ survival odds by accelerating their growth and reducing their contact with humans. Langen hopes this helps with other places across the country developing their own grizzly rewilding programs.

“What we’re aiming to do is create a protocol that users can follow. We already have people talking to us and showing interest from Alberta, Yukon and even Montana. Hopefully, at some point, we have enough information that we can provide them with a really good platform. It’s going to be a work-in-progress for a long time because the sample size that we’re getting is really small,” said Langen.

According to Langen, A lot of bears are orphaned because of attractants, with the mother’s becoming a problem after continued interactions with humans. For this, Langen thinks there needs to be more education and enforcement so people can have a chance to “coexist with these beautiful animals.”

“I’m really hoping that [the documentary] can show people that we can rehabilitate these predators without them becoming a problem,” explained Langen.

She commented how there is no facility to help these bears in Alberta despite being home to an at-risk population of grizzlies. Grizzly bears were classified as Threatened by the Government of Alberta back in 2010. This classification was due to population size, human caused mortality rates and habitat quality. At the time, there were an estimated 700 to 800 grizzly bears in the province.

Along with grizzly caretaker Kim Gruijs, research scientist Dr. Lana Ciarniello and wildlife photographer John Marriott, the documentary follows the distinct behaviours and personalities of the five bears before they were prepared for release into the wild. After release they were monitored using tracking collars. Grizzly Rewild takes viewers on a journey from the bears’ release to their life and death struggles in the wild, giving hope for the future of the grizzly rewilding project.

The Nature of Things, Grizzly Rewild began streaming March 3 on CBC Gem.

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