Orphaned cub still on the loose

Biologists want to trap it, move it to a remote area

Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2007

When Marlene Mungle peeked out a window of her Douglas Island home Saturday night, she saw an orphan playing in the snow.

It was the same black bear cub that's been popping up in the area south of the Douglas Bridge since early December. It has survived despite being motherless and stirred from hibernation. It's even avoided a trap set for its own benefit last week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"He was a happy little bear cub, just a baby," Mungle said. "He was walking and playing in the snow, standing around. He had his little paws pawing at the snow, trying to get some water."

While the cub may look like a he, the sex hasn't been confirmed. And although he or she has been a diverting sight for Douglas islanders, officials are concerned for its safety.

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They set a trap on an undisclosed beach, hoping to catch the yearling, but may have to give up the effort because ice is fouling the trigger mechanisms, said Ryan Scott, a state wildlife biologist.

As a rule, the department does not leave bear traps out for extended periods. The usual policy with bears is to let nature take its course, he said.

That could mean a cold death.

Wildlife authorities hoped to build a denning box to help the cub sleep through winter. They envisioned something like a dog house with pads and insulation, he said.

But first they have to catch the bear.

"We'll hear about it, get one or two reports, then we won't hear anything in four or five days," Scott said. "This weekend, that was the first time anybody saw it in several days."

Melissa Hull saw it on Dec. 12 after excited neighbors knocked on her door to point it out.

"He was eating a crow," Hull said.

She has not seen it since, she said. But in the weeks that followed, the cub has garnered national media attention as well as an unofficial fan club of local folks. It tends to appear in the vicinity of Douglas Highway and John Street, south of the bridge.

When Marlene and Tom Mungle saw the bear on Saturday night, they called authorities. They also called a neighbor to come over and watch from their secure, second-story deck.

"Maybe we should charge admission," Tom Mungle joked.

"He's just a little loner cub," Marlene Mungle said. "I call him baby bear."

• Ken Lewis can be reached at ken.lewis@juneauempire.com.

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