Grizzly caught on video chasing wild foals, as more fall prey in southern Alberta, says wild horse group

·3 min read
Wild horses gallop through the creek, stalked by a group of bears in Williams Creek Valley west of Sundre Alta.  (Submitted by Help Alberta Wildies Society - image credit)
Wild horses gallop through the creek, stalked by a group of bears in Williams Creek Valley west of Sundre Alta. (Submitted by Help Alberta Wildies Society - image credit)

Wild foal deaths are up by about 20 per cent this spring, says Darrell Glover, president of the Help Alberta Wildies Society.

The society keeps a close watch on the feral horse population — following foals and fillies through to adulthood in the Williams Creek Valley, near Sundre, Alta.

With trail cameras, Glover said they can see more of the herd's day-to-day life.

This year, it seems bears are on the hunt. Glover has captured video of the wild herd kicking up dust while a grizzly is in hot pursuit.

Because of licensing issues, CBC News is not able to publish the video.

"Although we do have cougars, and wolves inhabiting the valley, we feel that the bears are probably taking their fair share or maybe a little more this year," Glover said.

The group isn't raising alarm bells, Glover just wants the public to realize wild horses do have natural predators.

"We like the bears. We like all wildlife," Glover said. "Our mission is to promote awareness of the real facts with the wildlife cohabiting with the wild horses out in the Foothills."

WATCH | Trail cameras catch grizzly bears in area with wild horses:

Glover can't pinpoint why they are noticing more foal deaths, but he does think foals are being preyed on. He hasn't captured a kill on camera yet, but there is a video of a couple of foals with visible mauling marks on their hind quarters.

"I mean, that didn't just occur, that was a predator that took a bite out of that foal and it got away," Glover said.

Yes, bears eat horses

Studies of bear scat show part of their diet includes ungulates, biologist Sarah Elmeligi said. Wild horses fall into that category, along with moose, elk, deer and bighorn sheep.

This year's snowpack is still melting, so many animals have convened in the valleys where ungulates can graze and predators can hunt, Elmeligi said.

"Grizzly bears can't be the only culprit," she said. "We're kind of having this scenario where all of the predators and all of the prey are being concentrated into these snow-free areas in the lower elevations.

And that just means that they'll naturally encounter each other more, and that provides bears and wolves and cougars more opportunity to predate."

Submitted by the Help Alberta Wildies Society
Submitted by the Help Alberta Wildies Society

Like most predators, bears are opportunistic. Elmeligi said if a bear is strong and fast enough to take down a foal, it will.

"That is a very high-calorie, high-protein meal, and that bear hasn't eaten for five months," she said.

Elmeligi said there's no evidence to suggest this year is exceptional in terms of foal deaths or grizzlies catching up to prey. She thinks there's just more opportunity for people to observe this otherwise natural behaviour.

"It's easy for us as humans to assign value judgments to wildlife behaviour and patterns that we see," she said. "But really, nature is just being nature, that bear is just being a bear and those horses are just being horses and they're doing exactly what they should be doing on the landscape."

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