A black bear was killed Sunday on Highway 1A, just west of Cochrane, leaving two bear cubs behind at the scene, according to Suzan McEvoy, who reported the incident to the Cochrane Ecological Institute.
"We were actually initially kind of excited because we saw two bear cubs and then realized that the mama bear was also there, but she'd been obviously hit by some sort of vehicle," she said.
"She was deceased. We didn't get out and we didn't stop, but we did try to call in and report it. It took a little bit of time."
McEvoy tried multiple hotlines before she was able to report the incident. She's worried about the animals' safety and thinks they were probably born earlier this year.
"Even if they were a year old, you're still nursing off mom, and I don't think they'll make it through an Alberta winter," she said. "I'm not a bear expert, but I know enough about wildlife, [I] know how hard Alberta winters are."
The situation looks dire for the baby bear cubs, according to Kari Pedder, a wildlife and animal care technician at the Cochrane Ecological Institute.
"If they were left alone, they would starve to death or get killed the way things are now," she said.
"We have the resources to support the rehabilitation and rescuing of these orphaned bear cubs. But as of right now, due to policy, we cannot take them in."
Wildlife experts from the Cochrane Ecological Institute have expressed concerns over the safety of the bear cubs. (Helen Pike/CBC)
Rehabilitation is restricted
According to the Alberta orphan black bear protocol released by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), orphaned black bear cubs can only be admitted to approved rehabilitation facilities between January and July 1 every year.
If cubs need to be rehabilitated after July, the decision to rehabilitate or euthanize lies with AEP staff. The animals are usually taken to an approved wildlife veterinarian first which allows AEP staff to determine whether the bear cubs can be rehabilitated.
One of the major requirements for rehabilitation is for black cubs to be less than a year old.
"Yearlings that have successfully denned over the previous winter are not suitable candidates for rehabilitation upon emergence," the AEP protocol reads, adding that injured cubs will be examined by AEP staff and veterinarians before a decision is made.
According to Pedder, this is a time-sensitive situation that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.
"In order for these cubs to survive and everybody would want that, they need to be brought to a facility … they're at a stage in their life right now where they cannot support themselves," she said.
"They're in need of milk. They would starve and get hunted in the wild without their mom being with them."
This sentiment was echoed by Ken Weagle, who is the director of the Cochrane Ecological Institute.
"Without being rescued, we can't really evaluate their health and what might [have] happened to them or … what could happen to them. So it's a very difficult situation for the cubs."
He added that it's not possible to act until enforcement officials from Alberta Fish and Wildlife make a decision.
"We would like to be able to take them and evaluate them for damage and rehabilitate them. But our permits will not allow us to do that," Weagle said.
"The Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch are the ones that will actually make the final call as to what happens to the two cubs."
According to the wildlife expert, this points to a larger problem across the province — the likelihood of rehabilitating injured animals before it's too late remains low.
"Once the animal is injured … the chances of them receiving decent care are probably quite minimal unless the Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch decides they want the animals treated," he said.
"I think, we in Alberta, we have to really think about how we are dealing with wildlife if we want to see any around [in] the future."