Fortress of the Bear is located in the small Alaskan town of Sitka. When I first heard about this place I was sceptical. I did not really want to visit bears in a zoo, however Fortress of the Bear is actually a Sanctuary for orphaned cubs and provides a great opportunity to see bears up close and personal.
It is law in Alaska for an orphaned cub to be euthanised. It is believed it is more humane to kill the orphaned cub as it is unable to fend for itself in the wild without it’s mother. Fortress of the Bears actually rescues the cub bears on death row and gives them a second chance at life.
What is a little sad is that the law in Alaska does not allow for the Bears to be released into the wild once they have been brought into captivity. It is one of the few US states that does not allow it.
The Sanctuary does however run a program in the hope that one day the law will be changed and the bears will be released. They therefore feed them randomly, increase their food intake in the lead up to winter and provide areas for them to hibernate. They are treating the bears in a way that would allow for them to be released should the laws be changed. In the meanwhile they remain for the term of their natural life. In the wild bears live for an average 25 years, at the Sanctuary they may live up to 40.
We spoke to Chris, the operations manager originally from the UK, who had been working at Fortress of the Bears for some five years. He gave us some great insights into the work they are doing here, the expansion plans they have and the lobbying work they do striving to change the laws. If you visit - make sure you say hi to him!
The bears are kept in a large area with fresh water running into a stream. During salmon season they release fresh fish in the stream for the bears to catch their own food. They have water to swim in, mounds to climb and cave areas away from the public for them to retreat to.
Unusually there are both black and brown bears located here. The bears are kept separated and a new area was due to be opened just a few days after our visit for the black bears. The new area provides natural forest for the black bears to roam.
On our visit there was just one viewing platform to view the bears, a new black bear viewing area was due to be opened. The Sanctuary is raw, with just the one area to visit we wondered how we would fill the hour we had here - but it went really quick. It was fascinating being able to see the animals so close up and watching their habits.
Another great feature of this location is that Bald Eagles frequent the area. Scavengers, they swoop on the bear’s meals to feed themselves and then perch back on the trees in the surrounding forestry. We saw at least ten on our visit including junior eagles yet to get their white head feathers.
Entry was $10USD for Adults and $5USD for children, however we were not charged for our eight and 11 year olds only paying $20USD for the family to enter. The venue receive no funding other than that which they make from entry fees, shop sales and donations.
We took a bus from Sitka - $10USD per person round trip. It was about a 15 minute drive from town to the location and we were not charged for the kids.
If you ever wanted to see brown or black bears up close and personal, and not through a glass exhibit at a zoo, Fortress of the Bear is a great option for your visit to Sitka.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family