CALGARY -- Three grizzly cubs arrived at the Calgary Zoo in early May after Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers discovered them orphaned after their mother was shot in the Crowsnest Pass area.

And now a group of 73 scientists, wildlife conservationists and animal advocates have sent an open letter to the Alberta government, urging it to rehabilitate the five-month-old cubs so they can be released back into the wild. 

Lisa Dahlseide is a conservation biologist and the education director at the Cochrane Ecological Institute whose name is included in the letter.

"It’s very impressive to see who has shown support for these three cubs to not get stuck in that zoo situation and too be back in the wild," said Dahlseide.

"These scientists are recognizing that genetic contribution is so crucial that even those three individuals have such a big part to play."

Dahlseide says since 2010 grizzly bears are a species listed as prohibited from rehabilitation and release.

"But in B.C., Northern Lights Society does wonderful work, they’ve been rehabbing grizzly bears very successfully,” said Dahlseide. “No post release conflict or issues with any of the bears.”

Dahlseide says there were no rehab facilities in Alberta because of the government restriction. But that’s soon to change, work is underway right now at the Cochrane Ecological Institute to build a 1.6-hectare enclosure separate from the rest of the facility to isolate grizzlies, which is in pristine habitat.        

Alberta Environment and Parks specialists have looked at the research, including British Columbia’s practices and says there is inconclusive evidence about success with grizzly rehabilitation or the safety risks associated with it.

“To our knowledge, no other jurisdiction in North America currently allows grizzly rehabilitation,” said Jess Sinclair, press secretary to Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon.

“Grizzlies are different than black bears because they often stay longer with their mothers, meaning they take longer to learn the ropes in terms of foraging and hunting.

“This means they need to be in rehabilitation longer than black bears in order to survive in the wild. This causes safety concerns because the longer a bear is in rehabilitation, the higher the risk of habituation and aggression when the bear is released.”

The Calgary Zoo says the three bears are receiving exceptional care and growing fast. It’s still working to identify a permanent home for them at another zoo.

“This story has become very polarizing and we are respectfully declining all interview requests for updates/photographs/videos of them for the bears’ well-being and safety,” said the Calgary Zoo in a written statement.

“The health and well-being of the animals we love and care for at our facilities, short term or long-term stays, always takes priority.”

Gordon Stenhouse works out of Hinton Alberta and is a research scientist and grizzly bear program lead.

He believes life in a zoo may be the better option for the orphaned cubs because he says science does not show that releasing grizzly bear cubs back into the wild is the most humane solution. 

“I think that hopefully in the future there will be more research that might go on about what we might do with cubs that become orphaned,” said Stenhouse. “Ultimately what we want to do is try to avoid having situations where we have orphaned cubs.”

Dahlseide says if the government needs more data collected on what happens to rehabilitated grizzly cubs after their release, this would be the perfect opportunity.

“I feel that even if there is a level of habituation because of the zoo having them for so long, I strongly know that they will re-wild when they stop having that contact,” said Dahlseide.