‘Too late in the game’ for hurt young bear

BEAR TOO THIN TO SUR­VIVE WIN­TER: BI­OL­O­GIST

Lethbridge Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

A wildlife bi­ol­o­gist says a young in­jured black bear that has been wan­der­ing alone west of Cal­gary for weeks has not built up enough body fat or grown a thick enough fur un­der­coat to sur­vive the win­ter with­out help.

The small bruin was spot­ted hob­bling in a field in late Septem­ber with an ap­par­ent in­jury to one of its back legs. That prompted calls for the Al­berta gov­ern­ment to al­low a wildlife re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion char­ity to in­ter­vene.

The prov­ince has said the an­i­mal should be left alone and has sug­gested it could heal while it hi­ber­nates. Any­one who ap­proaches the bear risks be­ing charged and fined.

More than 6,700 peo­ple have signed an on­line pe­ti­tion urg­ing the gov­ern­ment to al­low the bear to be treated.

Bi­ol­o­gist Lisa Dahl­seide says the bear was seen as re­cently as Sun­day, when it at­tracted a crowd of on­look­ers near the small com­mu­nity of Red­wood Mead­ows.

She says the an­i­mal has been able to move over greater dis­tances than it had been sev­eral weeks ago, when it stayed mostly in the same spot.

“It’s great news be­cause it shows that he’s heal­ing,” Dahl­seide said Mon­day.

“How­ever, I feel that it was a bit too late in the game for this time of year. He had such a long pe­riod of time when he wasn’t mo­bile, where he lacked get­ting the nu­tri­tional con­tent that he needed to pre­pare for hi­ber­na­tion.”

Al­berta En­vi­ron­ment and Parks did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Bears need to con­sume 20,000 calo­ries a day in prepa­ra­tion for their win­ter slum­ber, Dahl­seide said.

“He’s very skinny. He’s still very much un­der­weight.”

The Cochrane Eco­log­i­cal In­sti­tute, which has been re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing and res­cu­ing wildlife for a half-cen­tury, has for weeks wanted the bear to be brought to its fa­cil­ity for care.

But pro­vin­cial rules in place since 2010 pro­hibit the res­cue, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and return to the wild of a num­ber of an­i­mals, in­clud­ing black bears.

In­sti­tute pres­i­dent Clio Smee­ton said she wrote to the prov­ince last month to ask for a tem­po­rary shel­ter per­mit, which would al­low her or­ga­ni­za­tion to look af­ter the bear for a lim­ited pe­riod of time. She also asked to bor­row a bear trap.

Smee­ton said the bear would be given ve­teri­nary treat­ment at no cost to tax­pay­ers. The bear would be fat­tened up as much as pos­si­ble for the next few weeks and would be given a safe place to hi­ber­nate un­til spring.

“We have been col­lect­ing vast amounts of ap­ples, all do­nated for him, should we ever get him.”

Smee­ton said she doesn’t un­der­stand why the prov­ince hasn’t taken her up on the of­fer.

“It’s not dif­fi­cult. It’s clean, it’s eth­i­cal and it’s morally right to do,” she said. “It won’t cost the gov­ern­ment a penny and by do­ing some­thing like that, they look good, the an­i­mals are looked af­ter and ev­ery­body’s happy.”

Dahl­seide said Smee­ton’s pro­posal is the best op­tion, but the bi­ol­o­gist has been ex­plor­ing an al­ter­na­tive.

Dahl­seide said a den in­su­lated with straw bales could be built for the bear on the pri­vate prop­erty it has been roam­ing on, since it’s not clear whether the an­i­mal has the strength to build one it­self. She said the landowner has ex­pressed an ea­ger­ness to help, but wants to en­sure do­ing so doesn’t cause any le­gal trou­ble.

The down­side would be that the bruin would be more vul­ner­a­ble to preda­tors than if it were at the wildlife in­sti­tute — but it’s bet­ter than noth­ing, Dahl­seide said.

“We have built the den, so as soon as we get the OK, it’s just a mat­ter of putting it on the back of a pickup truck.”

Cana­dian Press/Ki­nan Ech­tay photo

Con­cern is grow­ing for an in­jured black bear, shown in a re­cent hand­out photo, that has been spot­ted on the out­skirts of Cal­gary.

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