Orphaned bears out of den
Two young orphaned grizzly bears that made it through a long winter’s hibernation without their mother have shown up alive and well near Lake Louise.
Parks Canada suspected the now two-year-old bears made it into a den on their own last winter, and this week the young bruins were spotted on the Bow Valley Parkway, just east of Lake Louise.
“This is excellent news. They’ve had the smarts to be able to survive this far on their own, so we’re really hopeful,” said Hal Morrison, a human-wildlife conflict specialist in Lake Louise.
“Each day, each week, each month, their chances keep getting better, but they still lack their mom’s protection, which is the big thing.”
The mother of the young bears was killed in the prime of her life on the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks on May 28, 2011, in what was considered a blow to the regional grizzly population.
The two young bruins hung around the Lake Louise area at first, before heading into higher country later in the summer, including the ski hill and Skoki region - the traditional home range of their mother.
Before hibernation, they were last spotted in the first week of November and photographs taken at the time showed they appeared healthy and in good physical condition.
Morrison said wildlife specialists darted one of the bruins with a tranquillizer Tuesday (May 29), allowing them to fit it with an ear transmitter so they can track its movements.
The bear was a male and weighed in at 72 pounds. The sex of the other bear is still not known. A decision has not been made on whether or not to capture the other one.
Morrison said wildlife specialists pulled 41 porcupine quills from one of his front feet.
“It certainly explains why he was hobbling around on three legs,” he said.
“He found out quickly by himself that he shouldn’t be swatting at porcupines.”
Morrison said the biggest natural threat to the two orphaned bears are other bears and wolves, though roads and train tracks are also dangerous.
“As far as human-caused, roads and the railway is the biggest threat. Unfortunately, they were on the tracks when mom was killed,” he said.
“But we’re hopeful they will continue to live successfully. We’re just so glad to see them playing out their lives in the wild.”
Research with the long-term Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project revealed cubs in this region, on average, typically stay with their mothers for about four years.
Other orphaned bears in this region have managed to successfully den by themselves in the past, including two young-of-year cubs of famed grizzly bear No. 56.
In September 2001, the highly tolerant and habituated female number 56, whose home range took in the hamlet of Lake Louise, was struck on the train tracks.
There was no happy ending for her cubs either.
Her two tiny cubs – one female and the other a male – survived and denned up on their own in 2001. The female cub was killed on the highway the following spring.
The male youngster managed to survive another summer on his own and made it to a den, but then was killed by a large male bear in 2003 when he was three years old.
The young male bear fitted with an ear transmitter earlier this week is now part of a joint Canadian-Pacific Railway-Parks Canada collaring project, aimed at gathering enough information to work out ways to reduce bear mortality on the train tracks.
Trains are the single biggest killer of grizzly bears in Banff National Park. There have been 10 known grizzly bear mortalities on the tracks since 2001, including eight over the last six years.
There are an estimated 60 grizzly bears in Banff National Park.
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