Plight of 3 orphaned bear cubs prompts calls for change to Alberta's rehabilitation policy

·2 min read
Three bear cubs were left orphaned after their mother was shot and killed by officers from Alberta Environment Parks. (Karel Bergmann - image credit)
Three bear cubs were left orphaned after their mother was shot and killed by officers from Alberta Environment Parks. (Karel Bergmann - image credit)

Three newly orphaned black bears in the Bragg Creek area have sparked a conversation about the provincial government's wildlife practices.

A mother bear was shot and killed by officers from Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) after she and her cubs got into a garage in the southern Alberta hamlet late last month.

Now, some members of the community are asking for a change in a provincial policy to allow the cubs to be rehabilitated.

Lisa Dahlseide with the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) says the government's current policy bans bears from being rescued from July to January.

"As far as I know, we're the only jurisdiction in the world that has such a regulation in place," she said.

"So these cubs that are recently orphaned are forbidden from being rescued unless there was written approval from the folks at AEP to allow for their rescue at this time. Then they are just left to fend on their own."

Preventing more harm

According to AEP, the purpose of wildlife rehabilitation is to help animals that cannot survive on their own without human intervention.

In the case of orphaned black bear cubs, this is balanced with the objective of ensuring that the bears do not become habituated to humans, increasing the possibility for future negative interactions with Albertans.

The best option is always to leave animals in the wild whenever possible, they said.

Jo Horwood/CBC
Jo Horwood/CBC

"Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Services will continue to monitor the status of the three cubs. If the cubs are located, Fish and Wildlife will make a decision for both the benefit of the bears and public safety," AEP said in a statement.

"Orphaned black bear rehabilitation is not considered necessary in this case as the cubs are old enough to be able to forage on their own."

But others are looking to make the most of what they see as a tragic situation — and bring change to those policies.

A data gap

Peter Neuhouse with the department of biological sciences at the University of Calgary is proposing a research project with the cubs in an attempt to understand the behaviour and development of bears through different life phases.

"What we want to know is, if we give these bears an extra chance ... if we rehab them, does it actually work?" he said. "Do they become adults? Do they get into the population and reproduce themselves?"

The project would be a partnership between the Kainai Nation, U of C, and CEI.