Montana Outdoors

Jun 25, 2012 9:17 AM by Tara Grimes - MTN News

MT Wildlife officials nab grizzly responsible for killing 70 sheep

GREAT FALLS- State wildlife officials say they have captured a grizzly bear that is responsible for the deaths of more than 70 sheep.

Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Grizzly Bear Management Specialist Mike Madel says that he and wildlife officials captured the bear and its cub around 9:30 a.m. on Sunday at the Coffman Ranch in the Collins area. And by noon, Madel and the grizzlies were headed back to Choteau for the night.

He said the mother grizzly bear caused the death of nearly 60 lambs, ewes, big rams, and ram lamb at the Jones family Ranch near Conrad on Tuesday and Wednesday. Friday night the Coffman family, who live about 14 miles south of the Jones' ranch, also reported two sheep deaths.

The sow also killed 10 sheep at the New Miami Colony earlier this month, but at that time wildlife officials were able to capture the sow's cub. Officials released the cub back into the wild with a radio transmitter in its ear. It was that transmitter that helped officials track the sow down.

Both the sow and her female cub were emaciated when they were caught. Madel said the sow was not viciously attacking the sheep, but was earning a "protein reward" from them. He said bears form "search images" and learn through rewards.

"Basically this is a female in poor shape," Madel said. "She very possibly felt she could come back and feed on these carcasses at another time and so they're killing what they have available for the opportunity to continue to feed."

Madel said he expects to hear from wildlife officials Monday if the grizzly bear will be put down or relocated with her cub.

If she is put down, he says her cub will be taken to a rehabilitation center before going to a zoo. If she is relocated, she will have a radio collar on her for the next three to four years. He stated many grizzlies who are relocated after killing sheep, do not tend to commit another offense.

Madel said according to state requirements, a female adult grizzly bear is given three chances before it is euthanized. This is the first time the female grizzly has been captured due to a conflict.

However, this is not the only time Madel has come in contact with the sow. Madel said he put a radio collar on her back in 2010 when she was a cub. She never caused any conflict and he said she hardly ever came down on to private land or left the foothills west of Dupuyer. She dropped that collar when she became an adult. Madel believes this was the first time she ventured out onto prairie land, traveling from east of Highway 89 and making it almost to Interstate 15.

She is also unique in that she is, on record, one of the youngest females known to have given birth to a cub. She gave birth to her female cub in January when she was four and a half years old. Madel said almost always a female has its first litter at five or six years old.

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