Kodiak brown bear on the lam from wildlife refuge

April 9, 2012 - 8:06 PM
Bear Escapes

This March 29, 2012 photo provided by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center shows a female Kodiak brown bear, named Shaguyik, in Portage, Alaska. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center announced Monday that the 300-pound 2-year-old female bear escaped six days ago from its enclosure near Portage. Shaguyik had been destined for a zoo in Sweden in early summer. (AP Photo/Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Doug Lindstrand)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska wildlife center that takes in orphaned and injured animals is missing one of its larger residents.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center announced Monday that a 300-pound, 2-year-old female Kodiak brown bear escaped six days ago from its enclosure near Portage. The bear had been destined for a zoo in Sweden in early summer.

The center is near Chugach National Forest land in the southernmost end of Anchorage, about 40 miles from downtown. The bear was last seen Tuesday night in mountains between the Portage and Placer valleys, the center said. A spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the bear was not a public threat.

"It's not like an escaped murderer has gotten loose," said Jessy Coltrane, the area biologist for Anchorage. "It's just a bear in the woods in an area where we have lots of other bears."

The bear had been named Shaguyik (sheh-GOY'-uk), an Eskimo name for "ghost" or "shadow," according to the center website.

It's the first time the center has had an escape, said executive director Mike Miller.

"We had our electric fence turned off for maintenance and during that time, something spooked Shaguyik," Miller said in the announcement. "Unfortunately, this year's heavy snow load required us to fix our electric fence and that's when the incident occurred."

The bear climbed over the fence to escape, said center spokesman Ethan Tyler.

The bear was found on its own in December 2010 on Kodiak Island at a season when most bears were denned up for the winter, according to the center's website. She was flown to Anchorage for care. A veterinarian spayed her in November.

She carries a microchip but is not wearing a collar and has no identifying tags. The nonprofit center is the custodian of the bear under a permit but it remains the possession of the state, Tyler said.

The center is the permanent home of five bears. Shaguyik and another young bear were under the center's care until they could be moved to a Swedish zoo in June.

Coltrane said the Fish and Game Department spent time last week searching for the bear from the air but has stopped.

"She could have just kept on walking and just walked into the Alaska wilderness," Coltrane said. "At this point in time, there's not a whole lot to be done."

The bear likely would have been safer staying inside the fence.

"She's a sub-adult. She's a 2-year old cub, so she's a young bear, and young bears in general have a high mortality rate, even ones that are born in the wild and live with their mother," Coltrane said. The biggest danger is from other bears.

"There is a chance she's already been eaten by another bear, or will be eaten by another bear, or something else has happened to her. We just don't know," Coltrane said.

On the other hand, she said, some orphan bears survive, and this one could return to the center.

"They're equipped to deal with that if she returns, and there's a good chance she might," Coltrane said. "If she gets hungry, that's where she's been fed all of her life."

Other bears have been waking up from winter dens, and Coltrane said she expects to start getting reports from people who believe they are seeing Shaguyik.

Center officials warned that the formerly captive bear should not be approached.

"Even though Shaguyik has been in captivity most of her life, the public should treat this bear with extreme caution," Miller said. "Because of its habituation, Shaguyik may not respond the same as wild bears and avoid human interaction. If someone sees the bear, the best thing to do is keep your distance and contact the authorities."