Skip to content

Cubs of rare white grizzly bear struck and killed in Yoho National Park

“At some point in the early morning, the bears returned to the roadside and the cubs were fatally struck on the road.”
A rare white grizzly bear. PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA

LAKE LOUISE – Two newborn cubs of a famous rare white grizzly bear have been struck and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park.

Parks Canada received a report at 5:15 a.m. Thursday (June 6) that the young-of-year cubs of the well-known female grizzly, tagged and collared as bear No. 178, were struck and killed on the fenced section of the Trans-Canada Highway near the Lake O'Hara turnoff in Yoho National Park.

“Parks Canada human wildlife coexistence staff responded to the report and found the two cubs deceased,” said James Eastham, a spokesperson for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit in an email. “GB178 was also on the road and was hazed back behind the wildlife fencing.”
Wildlife management staff had been monitoring the bears’ movements along the highway on Wednesday (June 5) after reports they got onto the highway side of the wildlife exclusion fence.

“They took actions to prevent the bear from spending time on the highway, including making repairs to the wildlife fence and hazing the bear away from the roadside,” said Eastham.

“At some point in the early morning, the bears returned to the roadside and the cubs were fatally struck on the road.”

John Marriott, a prominent local wildlife photographer and wildlife advocate, said people will be devastated to hear this news of the cubs of Nakoda, as she is referred to locally.

“The loss of Nakoda’s cubs is going to be felt by wildlife lovers around the world, but I think it’s going to hit hardest right here at home, particularly with the Parks Canada wildlife staff that were monitoring her from dawn to dusk each day trying to keep the family on the landscape,” he said.

“The sad reality of the situation is that the Lake Louise area is becoming increasingly difficult for grizzly bears to survive long-term in.”

In this case, Marriott said Parks Canada pulled every lever they had at their disposal and it still resulted in the loss of the cubs.

“I’m not sure what more they could have done and I’m actually amazed that they’ve managed to keep Nakoda alive for this long given just how dangerous that stretch of highway is,” he said.

“I think we’re going to have to take a hard look at what we can do to once again make the Lake Louise area a source population for grizzly bears, because right now it’s a mortality sink and it’s only being kept afloat by bears immigrating to the area from elsewhere.”

Parks Canada has actively managed bear 178 for more than two years.

The seven-and-a-half-year-old female grizzly emerged from the den in May, for the first time with two cubs – one light brown, the other dark brown. Like she does each spring, she headed to the front country to feast on dandelions and other green-up by the side of the highway.

On May 23, Parks Canada implemented a mandatory no-stopping zone and 70 kilometre-per-hour speed limit along a 10-km stretch of highway between Yoho Valley Road and Sherbrooke Creek in an attempt to protect the three bears.

Bear 178 first showed up by the side of the highway several years ago with her female sibling, a light-brown coloured bear that was run over and killed on the highway near the Lake O’Hara turnoff in early June 2022

Bear experts have said the white bear is not albino – mutations of certain genes that affect the amount of melanin, which controls the pigmentation of skin, eyes and hair – but more likely the rare colour is caused by a recessive gene that makes fur white

In 2022, she was fitted with a GPS collar to help the wildlife management team monitor her movements and respond when she was by the highway.

That year, she was relocated three times to an area within her home range in Yoho National Park to encourage her to spend time away from the highway. There were no plans to move her a fourth time as she would likely just come back.

In 2023, Parks Canada electrified the wildlife fencing in Yoho National Park to help discourage bear 178, who had become adept at climbing the fencing.

“That year she was not seen along the road and data from her GPS collar indicates that she spent the summer in the backcountry away from areas of high human use,” said Eastham.

After initially showing up by the highway with her two cubs in tow on May 23,  Eastham said recent GPS collar data had indicated that she was spending time in Yoho’s backcountry before coming back to valley bottom on June 5.

He said wildlife management staff responded to a fence intrusion by bear 178 and her cubs on June 5, and hazed them back onto the appropriate side of the wildlife fence.

“They also performed repairs to the wildlife fencing,” he said.

Wildlife specialists have observed that bear 178 is very driven to spend time along the highway, which is high value habitat to her because of the food sources.

“Bear 178 has become habituated to humans due to the high level of human interaction she has experienced while roadside, leading her to become overly comfortable along the Trans-Canada highway,” said Eastham.

“This year, with snow lingering in the high country and the added food stress of feeding her cubs, wildlife specialists believe she returned to familiar and reliable high-value food sources along the road.”

Bear 178 was struck by a vehicle within 12 hours of her cubs being killed.

She was found dead two days later, believed to have succumbed to internal injuries.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks