Lost cub reunites with mother, younger siblings
A long-lost grizzly bear cub once feared dead has re-united with its mother and two new siblings.
The grizzly family unit with the three cubs from different litters is extremely rare and something not many in the conservation world have heard of.
“It is quite unusual,” said district conservation officer for Kananaskis Randy Axani said. “I just wonder what that little cub did on its own for that amount of time.”
Bear 105 had her first set of cubs two years ago but it was believed one was killed by a male bear and the other one was assumed dead as well. The grizzly denned during winter and emerged with two new cubs of the year last spring.
“We thought she had lost both of her previous cubs,” he said. “But in the fall low and behold this bigger bear shows up… and is part of the family unit.”
While DNA testing is not available Axani said he’s seen all three bears nursing on 105.
“If 105 is allowing this older bear to nurse on her it is probably her cub,” he added.
Axani said conservationists are finding a lot of cub mortality in the Kananaskis area is related to boars. In breeding season male bears will kill cubs in order to breed with the mother.
“That is becoming our biggest source of cub mortality,” he said adding it drives the female to begin ovulating so she can breed again. “We had sixteen cubs last year and at least two were killed by bears.”
Axani said part of the issue is new mothers tend to lose their first or second set of cubs before they understand the risk of coming down into the valley too soon in the spring when boars are looking to breed.
For example, he said bear 94 lost two cubs last year to a boar and “she was very late coming down this year but all indicators were that she has cubs and she showed up with three.”
Conservation officer Arian Spiteri said bear 105 and the three cubs movements brings them into the Bow Valley frequently.
Their home range is typically towards Kananaskis Village, up and down Highway 40 and the general area around Nakiska.
“She comes to the Bow Valley… typically through Skogan Pass and Wind Valley,” Spiteri said.
During the May long weekend in particular she ended up between the Bow River Campground near the Three Sisters exit of the Trans-Canada Highway and Three Sisters Campground in Dead Man’s Flats.
Spiteri said there is a habitat patch in that area and she has also been in the Highway 1X area more recently.
However on the long weekend she was navigating a wildlife movement pinch point in the Dead Mans Flats area with the cubs when all four crossed the highway.
“There was staff monitoring her and they were able stop traffic to let her through safely,” she said
Conservation officers even stopped traffic on the highway while she crossed to ensure the family of bears would not be hit by vehicles.
That was possible, said Axani, because bear 105 has been outfitted with a GPS collar.
One of the smaller cubs was caught in a bear trap earlier in May and 105 remained in the area allowing officers to tranquilize her and put the collar on.
The GPS collar allows conservation officers to use satellite uploads of her position, which Axani said is important as her home range is a difficult area full of human activity.
“We can program the collar so when she comes within a certain location it sends out an alert that she is in the area,” he said. “She is an important bear, she is coming into a prime (breeding) age in a busy area and is quite tolerant of people.”
Axani said bear 105 has never shown aggression towards humans, even though off-leash dogs chased them, and she has never gotten into unnatural food sources.
“We are working with her and our hope is to keep her around and on the landscape,” he said.
Spiteri said residents and visitors should always be vigilant and expect wildlife to be in the area.
With the unique story of 105 and her three cubs, one of which survived a winter on its own against the odds, it is important to keep bears safe.
“It is a good reminder you always need to be expecting you may encounter bears… it keeps you safe and keeps bears safe,” she said. “Females are very important for reproduction and it is important to keep them on the landscape.”
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