A beloved North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre (NIWRA) black bear passed away this week, leaving a lasting legacy at the centre in Errington.
The NIWRA announced that Knut, a black bear brought to the centre in 1996, had passed away after 25 years surrounded by people who loved him.
He had become an iconic animal at the centre, with people coming to take his photo and connect with the bear, commenting that they grew up with Knut, according to NIWRA.
It said people would come when they were young and bring their children to see him years later.
Rehabilitating bears was a goal for the centre in 1996, according to Knut’s best human friend Robin Campbell, and Knut helped set the path for rehab there.
“Back then we were wanting to rehabilitate bears and put them back out into the wild in British Columbia,” said Campbell. “It was a huge thing, we felt that if we could get a bear and find out what’s built into their system and what their mom needs to teach them and what actually they know we would have a jump on what housing they’d need, what type of enclosure, what stimulation.”
The NIWRA says lessons learned from caring for Knut allowed it to develop a world-class black bear rehab program and help rehabilitate hundreds of ill, injured or orphaned cubs back into the wild.
Campbell says they were able to learn about the diet and eating patterns of bears like Knut. He also said hibernation was a natural part of Knut’s behaviour, mentioning he would build a den around winter and go into hibernation without any guidance.
Campbell described the relationship between himself and Knut as something special, he feels privileged to have spent 25 years with the bear.
“There aren’t words in the English language that I can put to it,” said Campbell. “I hope one day I can somehow share it.”
He described Knut as having the same emotions as humans and being able to communicate and understand the animal.
“The communication is amazing when you really get the opportunity to study bears and get a close relationship,” said Campbell. “Even a movement of a paw or the way he moves on the ground.”
NIWRA says Knut was “the focal point” for their Discover Bear presentations. They say he helped teach many people about wildlife stewardship and conversation.
They say his favourite things to do included “tubby time”, where he would go for a swim, and playing with a young bear companion, Rae.
Campbell recalls the connection Rae and Knut had until Knut’s passing, saying Rae could sense Knut’s condition and was difficult to separate from the bear.
Campbell says the centre will be building an educational area for people to learn about bears, and a spot where Knut has been buried with signage to remember the bear so people can visit the bear from their childhoods.