SPEARFISH — Five new bears are calling the Black Hills home thanks to a relocation effort made by two wildlife sanctuaries.
On Thursday, five black bears were released into a holding pen at the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary after being transported from a private owner’s cages.
“This allows us to replace some animals we’ve lost to old age,” said Fred Erdman, president of the sanctuary’s board of directors.
At one time, the sanctuary had 10 black bears and four European brown bears, sometimes called Syrian brown bears. Prior to the addition of the five new black bears the sanctuary, located just outside of Spearfish on Tinton Road, had four black bears and four brown bears.
The bears were transported to the sanctuary by officials from Lions, Tigers and Bears Animal Sanctuary in Alpine, Calif.
Bobbi Brink, the CEO and founder of the California sanctuary, said a secondary mission for her organization is transporting animals to various sanctuaries.
She said the equipment needed to transport large animals, such as lions, tigers and bears, is very expensive. The bears were transported to the sanctuary in large cages with wheels within a fifth-wheel trailer. The trailer has air conditioning, heating, first aid and protective equipment.
“We work with other sanctuaries to make this possible,” Brink said.
She said the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended Spirit of the Hills as a sanctuary that would be a good fit for five of the nine bears that needed to be relocated from Ohio.
Two bears are male, one of which is neutered. The other three are females. The bears are 9 to 12 years old.
This would be middle age for wild bears, Erdman said, but bears in captivity can live well into their 30s.
Two bears at the sanctuary are getting old and are expected to pass away soon.
Brink said the Ohio bears were essentially “backyard pets, being kept in a 15 foot by 30 foot cage, which is beyond unsuitable for these bears.”
Lawrence County commissioners approved the addition of the bears recently, a move needed because the maximum number of bears allowed was 10. The additional five will put the total number of bears to 14 and commissioners said the number of bears must fall below 10 before any more can be added.
The new bears will be kept separate from the other sanctuary bears until they are acclimated to the facility, a determination that will be made by sanctuary leaders.