Orphaned bear cub and curator of the Wildlife Conservation Center are best buds

PORTAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Bears all over Alaska are waking up, including one at the Wildlife Conservation Center named Kobuk. Kobuk is a three year old black bear who was brought to Alaska as an orphaned cub in 2016.

Kobuk was brought to the center at less than than six months old after his mom was run off by a pack of dogs in Valdez. Sarah Howard is the curator for the center. She has worked with Kobuk since he was a small cub, and they've formed a special bond over the years.

"It's real imperative that they're comfortable with us as their caretakers because eventually he's going to crack a nail, or he's going to hurt himself somehow that we need to treat him," said Howard, "and if he's super scared of us it's going to be really difficult."

Because of that, she's learned his personality, his quirks, and favorite treats. "He's kind of the shy quiet guy until you get to know him," said Howard, "and then he just bursts with energy and he's kind of a goofball once you get to know him a little bit."

Howard works with him on operant conditioning, which uses positive re-enforcement to train him to behave well around his trainers and even participate in his own care. To Howard, Kobuk is like family.

"At this point, Kobuk is definitely one of my kids," said Howard. "I talk about him so much that, at first, my family didn't know who Kobuk was, and now they've seen all the pictures and they're like, 'oh, you're referring to a bear,' and you act like it's one of your best friends, and that's just because I really adore that bear."

While Sarah and Kobuk have a very special relationship, it's a careful one. It's important to remember to be bear aware while we're in their territory, especially now that they're all starting to wake up. So if you're going hiking or camping — go in groups, make a lot of noise, and at home make sure your trash is tightly locked up to keep yourself and our wildlife friends safe.

If you'd like to stop by and say hi to Kobuk, visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center's website for operation times and more information.

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