Bob Barker provides $50,000 to help build Manitoba black bear sanctuary

Black bears

A Manitoba couple is starting the province’s first black bear rehabilitation centre with the help of former Price is Right host Bob Barker.

Barker is donating $50,000 from his foundation to Judy and Roger Stearns, who plan to open the rehab centre on their property outside of Stonewall, Manitoba, about 40 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Judy told CBC News that she’s been working with orphaned cubs for years, and wanted to find better ways of dealing with young bears than putting them in zoos or euthanizing them. She says Barker’s large donation will help make her dream a reality.

The Stearns approached Zoocheck Canada for advice on alternative ways to care for orphaned bears in 2012, and decided the best option was to open a rehab facility themselves.

Zoocheck then contacted John Beecham, a renowned biologist and bear rehabilitation expert in Idaho, who helped the Stearns design the centre and develop protocols that would support the animals’ needs. The couple had already begun accumulating materials to build the centre when Zoocheck decided to contact Barker, who thought the facility was an excellent idea.

“He’s very generous and he’s the real deal. He puts his money where his mouth is,” Zoocheck Canada’s campaigns director, Julie Woodyer, told the Globe.

Although the couple was planning to fund the facility themselves, their means were limited.

“Now it can be that much larger and more complex, and we can help the bears even more,” Judy said. “It’s fabulous.”

Alongside her husband and a group of volunteers, Judy plans to take in and care for up to 10 orphaned cubs at a time. The bears will stay in the facility until they reach 36 kilograms, at which point they’ll be released into the wild. If everything is approved by the municipal and provincial governments, the couple should have the facility up and running next spring.

Like the Stearns, Barker wants to give orphaned cubs an option beyond zoos, because he says “a life in captivity for bears is a life filled with suffering.”

A well-known animal welfare activist, Barker has supported similar causes, like when he paid for the transportation of three elephants from the Toronto zoo to a sanctuary in California, and campaigned for an elephant in the Edmonton Valley Zoo to make the same move.

It’s also not the first time he’s rallied for Canada’s black bears. In early 2014, he made headlines when he called on the Ontario government to ban the reintroduced spring bear hunt, though he failed to sway officials, who were concerned with public safety.

Barker told reporters that he hopes his most recent donation prompts people to think more about the welfare of animals.