North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre co-founder Robin Campbell is pictured with the famous bear cubs just before their release on Friday.

Bear cubs spared from death by conservation officer released into the wild

Conservation officer Bryce Casavant was suspended for not following orders to shoot the bears near Port Hardy in July of 2015

Jordan and Athena are free.

The bear cubs made famous worldwide by a conservation officer who was suspended after refusing to shoot them in July of 2015 have gained weight and were in good health after a year at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRC) in Errington, according to one of NIWRC’s founders, Sylvia Campbell.

They were released into the wild on Friday.

“Today was a good day,” Campbell said after the bears were released. “Body condition showed they were in excellent condition, with both showing a good weight gain and fat layer.”

In July of 2015, Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers everywhere when he opted not to shoot the cubs after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding a home near Port Hardy. The Conservation Service’s deputy chief Chris Doyle said in April he doesn’t believe anything was wrong with a policy that suspended Casavant and later transferred him for refusing an order that he kill a pair of cubs deemed habituated to humans.

Casavant launched a grievance after he was first suspended, then transferred out of the CO service and into another department following his actions in defiance of provincial orders. According to his union, the grievance was dropped.

Boosted by the support of British comedian Ricky Gervais, an online petition for Casavant’s reinstatement eventually passed a total of 300,000 signatures.

The location of the cubs’ release Friday remains a secret. Campbell said veterinarian Helen Schwantje and the Ministry of Environment’s Sean Pendergast, along with a conservation officer were in charge of the bear’s release.

“Blood samples plus hair follicles were taken for a DNA database, as well as neck and chest measurements,” said Campbell, describing the time just before Jordan and Athena were released. “Sexes were determined and ear tag numbers were verified to determine that indeed these were the correct bears being released (NIWRC currently has eight bear cubs in their care).”

Satellite collars were placed on the bears to be tracked by the Ministry of Environment and NIWRA,” said Campbell. “The collars are designed to eventually fall off.”

— with files from Black Press