Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why are these bears here? Were they injured?
A: All the bears living at the Fortress were orphaned at a young age.
Q: Will you put them back in the wild? Will you send them to a zoo?
A: The seven bears you can see now will be permanent residents at the Fortress, who will spend their lives here. The state of Alaska does not currently have a rehabilitation and release program in place for bear cubs, so it is illegal to attempt to put bears back out in the wild, where they belong. If they weren’t at the Fortress, they would have been killed when they lost their mother.
Q: Are these grizzly bears? What’s the difference between grizzly bears and brown bears?
A: Our brown bears are not grizzly bears; they are Alaskan coastal brown bears. The grizzly bear is another type of brown bear. So, a grizzly bear is always a brown bear, but a brown bear is not always a grizzly! The different types of brown bear vary genetically, and by geographic location. These are coastal bears, which are typically larger than grizzlies. Grizzlies are found in the interior of Alaska.
Q: What do you feed them?
A: Our bears receive a very seasonal diet that includes many things… Meat, fish, fruits, veggies, high quality dog food and nuts. And of course some treats, like peanut butter and honey! During the salmon run, we collect live salmon from the hatcheries and put them in the pools, so the bears have to catch and kill their own dinner!
Q: Do you go in and pet them?
A: No. We do not have any unprotected contact with the bears. However, we do work with them up close through the bars of their training rooms. Even if these bears tried to play with you or be affectionate towards you, they could cause serious damage or even kill you. Some people have raised bears by hand successfully, others have been badly injured when they have misread their bear’s behavior. We also believe that unnecessary hands-on contact sends out the wrong message; we don’t want people thinking that bears make good pets! Many large exotic animals have to be rescued from the illegal and irresponsible pet trade every year.
Q: Will they breed?
A: No. All our male bears have been castrated to prevent breeding. Firstly, we don’t want Toby breeding with her brothers due to the obvious genetic complications – it is also illegal to inbreed any related animals in captivity. We also do not breed the black or brown bears, because they are not an endangered species. There’s no need to be producing cubs in captivity for the conservation effort. The state won’t currently allow us to put wild bears back out in the wild, so certainly captive born ones would have to stay in captivity. An irresponsibly captive-produced cub could take a potential home away from a wild orphan that we may have been able to save.
Q: Do they fight?
A: Very rarely! They play fight and wrestle on a regular basis, but very rarely fight for real. If they do, it’s usually just making a lot of noise over a piece of food that one bear wants from another bear.
Q: What’s the difference between brown bears and black bears?
A: Brown bears and black bears are different species of bear. There are eight species of bear in total (brown, black, polar, panda, sun, moon, spectacled/Andean and sloth). Many of these different species contain numerous sub species (eg: brown bears: Alaskan coastal, grizzles, Kodiak…). The main difference between brown bears and black bears is size! Brown bears are generally much larger than black bears fully grown. Brown bear cubs will also stay with their mother a lot longer than black bear cubs before they have to face the world alone (3 years vs. 18months).
Q: Will you ever put the brown bears and black bears together?
A: No. Although they sometimes tolerate one another in the wild (usually when food is very bountiful, like during the salmon run), brown bears and black bears do not typically work well when housed together in captivity. Despite having lots of space here, and plenty of food - the size difference between the black and brown bears is quite large. Even if playing, the brown bears could injure the black bears easily without even trying or realizing.
Q: Are there any black bears in Sitka?
A: Only Smokey, Bandit & Tuliaan! There are no native black bears living in Sitka, or on any of the ABC islands (Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof), only Alaskan coastal brown bears. Sitka is located on Baranof Island.
Q: What happened to Balloo?
A: Balloo was euthanized on October 19th 2017, due to spinal compression issues that caused him to lose all mobility in his hind legs. Staff provided the best medical care, possible from consultations with bear specialists all over the world, visits from large game vets and multiple different drug regimens. Staff also worked tirelessly to ensure he had the best quality of life throughout.