Bear 105, three cubs relocated
The embattled life of bear 105 took an unfortunate turn Monday (June 25) when the young mother and her three cubs were captured, split up and relocated outside of the Bow Valley.
Mere months after reuniting with her lost three-year-old cub, bear 105 and her two youngest cubs were tranquilized on the unfinished Three Sisters golf course and flown to northern Alberta near Grande Cache on Tuesday. Her eldest cub, now known as bear 123, was also outfitted with an ear tag transmitter and moved to Kananaskis Country.
Although bear 105 has never had an aggressive encounter with people, wildlife officials said she had become habituated and posed a risk to public safety.
She spent most of her life in the Wind Valley, however an ill-fated journey into the Bow Valley that began last Saturday (June 23) ended poorly.
“She’s not an aggressive bear. She never has been. But shouting and yelling at her, we had to get very close to her. That’s not the response we want. Normally when you work with bears, they should run into cover. That’s the problem with this bear. She only responds to people when it’s us and when we do something to her,” said Senior Sustainable Resource Development biologist Jon Jorgenson.
During mating season, male grizzly bears often kill cubs so the mothers will go into heat. Bear 105 had lost cubs to large males in the past, and may have come to the Bow Valley to save her current brood from such a fate. Female bears in Banff with cubs have shown similar behaviour in the past.
“This is not normally part of her home range. She’s only been here for brief periods of time,” Jorgenson said.
Bear 105 first appeared in the Bow Valley on Saturday near Dead Man’s Flats. Wildlife officials tried to move her back into her home range in the Wind Valley, instead, she moved west towards Canmore.
In a harrowing turn of events, she ended up on the Trans-Canada Highway with her cubs, licking blood off the pavement from recent road kill. The highway had to be shut down and wildlife officials put forth a yeoman’s effort to get the bears to safety.
Conservation, Alberta Parks staff and Fish and Wildlife officers continued to monitor the bears. By Saturday night, she found her way along the Bow River to the water treatment plant. She was then pushed across the river and up near the Stewart Creek golf course.
Officials hoped she would move back to the Wind Valley, however she stayed near Canmore.
“We came out Sunday and she was still there. We didn’t want her to go any further west (into Canmore) so we tried to push her as far east as we could go.
“We wanted her to be in the Wind Valley. Our priority was to move her east of town. That took us all day.”
Her wanderings took her around several neighbourhoods along the Bow River, up near Peaks of Grassi and then back to Stewart Creek Golf Course.
Babysitting the bears took 12 officers. At the beginning of each spring, officials plan how much of their resources they can dedicate to each bear. The strategic plan weighs a number of factors such as the age, sex and chance of success with each animal. The wildlife officers from three agencies worked tirelessly for three days to keep bear 105 out of Canmore, using all of her allotted resources.
“We had meetings about what to do with her in the spring,” Jorgenson said. “Because she’s a female, we wanted to keep her in the area.
“We have limited resources. We have to make decisions about how to allocate them.”
By Monday, the family eventually stopped on the unfinished Three Sisters Golf Course, which is within the wildlife corridor.
“She was in an OK place, but she was in the open. You could approach her to about 30 or 40 metres and she wouldn’t react,” he said.
Midway through Monday, a decision was made to move them. Families of bears can’t be trapped, so they were tranquilized and caged.
“They had to be moved out of town, because they were so highly habituated to people,” he said. “She’s very nonchalant with people close to her and that’s where we get concerned.”
For the past two years, conservation officers have used aversive conditioning on bear 105, shooting her with rubber bullets and chasing her with Karilean bear dogs to keep her away from the public. The tactic wasn’t working.
“She was tying up a huge amount of resources we use for dealing with other bears. We had to cut our losses,” he said.
All of bear 105’s cubs are female, which made the decision particularly difficult.
“To lose four female bears makes it all the harder. That’s why we tried so hard with her,” Jorgenson said.
Moving bears is not uncommon for the area. This spring, four black bears have been relocated from Canmore. The last grizzly was moved last year after it was caught eating sheep at the YMCA Camp Chief Hector. The process is expensive and survival rates vary between 10 and 50 per cent, depending on the bear. Officials know it’s not an ideal situation and would rather focus more attention on education.
“The plan is to keep working on pro-active education programs like WildSmart. Moving bears isn’t the solution. We know it’s not. It’s not best for the bears. If we invest the time and effort into these programs, it reduces the potential for these conflicts,” he said.
Area closures were discussed, but impractical around town, he said and if she was moved back to Kananaskis Country, she’d likely just make her way back.
The eldest cub, now three years old, in theory should survive on her own.
“We tried the best we can. We don’t always succeed. This won’t be the last time we relocate a bear. We’re keeping a lot of bears on the landscape, but it’s so difficult to do in the Bow Valley.”