GPS provides insight into 64's movements
By: Cathy Ellis
| Posted: Thursday, Jun 14, 2012 06:00 am
A snapshot of a famous resident grizzly bear’s movements for the past two weeks demonstrates just how closely people and wildlife are living side-by-side in Banff.
An image released by Parks Canada shows bear 64, with her three yearling cubs in tow, have been travelling near the Banff townsite, crossing the deadly train tracks and negotiating an area inhabited by thousands of people.
Wildlife experts have adjusted the GPS collar on the matriarch of this grizzly bear family to get location fixes at 20-minute intervals to take advantage of the excellent data potential that will help guide future mitigations.
In the last two weeks, the 23-year-old bear and her cubs have been spending most of their time in the Vermilion Lakes area, an area she likes each spring, and hunting newborn elk calves near town.
“It just shows how much she uses this area of the Bow Valley,” said Steve Michel, a Parks Canada human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.
“It’s important people know she’s there on a regular basis and people should behave accordingly.”
Bear 64 is one of seven grizzly bears – four female and three male – that have now been fitted with GPS collars as part of a research project aimed at preventing grizzly bear deaths on the railway tracks.
A two-year-old male bear, which was orphaned last year when the mother bear was killed on the train tracks near Lake Louise, has been fitted with an ear transmitter.
Three other bears have been captured in culvert traps set up for this joint Canadian Pacific Railway-Parks Canada research project, but have all been released unhandled by wildlife crews because they are simply too young.
Cellphone cameras are set up near baited culvert traps so wildlife crews can be there quickly, minimizing how long the grizzly bears have to be stuck in the traps.
“We’ve actually had four or five really good examples, where we literally responded within half an hour of a capture,” Michel said.
“Our capture techniques were specifically designed to minimize stress on animals and the reason we’re using as much technology as possible, and the cellphone-based remote cameras are key.”
On Sunday (June 10), another female grizzly was captured and fitted with a GPS collar, this time of the Fairholme benchlands between Banff and Canmore. She has one yearling cub.
“She’s a very wary, elusive bear that we were aware of through remote cameras over the last year or so,” Michel said.
“We didn’t anticipate we would be successful in catching her, but after she made a few visits to the trap, we were able to.”
Michel said Parks Canada hopes the data downloaded from this bear’s collar will show them whether she crosses the Trans-Canada Highway or whether the highway is the southern boundary of her range.
“We’re very excited to see her data, and at the very least provide us with insight into how she’s using habitat on the Fairholme bench, particularly the area of the prescribed fire, which is now 10 years old,” he said.
On Thursday (June 7), wildlife experts captured yet another female grizzly, with two yearling cubs, near the Banff Springs Golf Course. The bear, known as 130, was tranquilized with a dart.
This bear had never been handled before, but Parks Canada knew of her existence through photos taken by remote cameras last year, including those at highway crossing structures.
“We know she uses areas around the Town of Banff and west to Castle Junction, but we don’t know about where she goes when she goes to higher, more remote backcountry locations,” Michel said.
“She’s certainly a bit more wary than 64, but this spring she was using a small corner of the golf course quite repeatedly very, very early in the morning and then again late at night.”
A large male bear known as number 122, which had previously dropped his collar after getting into a fight with another bear, was also recaptured and fitted with another GPS collar May 29.
The bear had been lured to a baited trap site, but because he had been caught on two previous occasions, was understandably wary of going into the baited culvert trap.
Michel said he was darted with a tranquilizer in order to fit him with a new GPS collar.
“Since then, he’s continued to do what we expect of large male – travelling quite widely at this time of year looking for mates,” he said.
“He’s covering a large area and recently did an extended foray up the Cascade and is now back in the Bow Valley.”