Rare white grizzly bear and its two cubs killed in Canada in separate car strikes

Rare white grizzly bear and its two cubs killed in Canada in separate car strikes

A rare white grizzly bear and its two cubs were killed on the same highway after being hit by cars in two separate incidents in Canada, officials said.

On 6 June, Yoho National Park officials received a report of two cubs being struck and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway early in the morning after they crossed through a section of broken fencing in British Columbia.

On the same evening, as the workers repaired the fence to keep the wildlife away from the road, they saw the mother – tagged as GBF 178 and locally referred to as Nakoda – “startle” at the sound of a train passing by the ditch.

She ran out of the ditch, onto the road “right in front of two vehicles on the highway”, said Parks Canada’s wildlife management specialist Saundi Stevens during a press conference on Tuesday.

While one of the vehicles was able to “swerve”, the other was not able to react in time, hitting the bear, she said. Nakoda ran back into the woods “no other apparent injuries other than the limp" that led officials to hope that she escaped largely unscathed.

But nearly 24 hours after the incident, the wildlife specialists received “mortality signal” from the grizzly bear’s GPS collar, implying she had not moved. Her death was confirmed on Saturday.

The white coloration in bears can be attributed to an unusual recessive gene, Kris Hundertmark, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at University of Alaska Fairbanks, told The Independent in 2020. A recessive gene would need to be present in both parents for the cub to have a white coat.

The white cub belongs to the grizzly bear subspecies and is different from the Kermode bear, or “spirit bear”, which also have white fur caused by a rare recessive gene, and are a subspecies of the North American black bear.

The team was “devastated” to lose the white grizzly bear and her cubs in such a short-span of time, Ms Stevens said.

“Our Parks Canada wildlife management team has actually spent a significant amount of time, and I mean hundreds upon hundreds of person-hours, managing Bear 178,” she said.

Addressing the rumours circulating on social media that the bear returned to the highway because she was mourning the loss of her cubs, Ms Stevens said, Nagoda “displayed no signs of distress”, adding that grizzlies sometimes eat their deceased cubs.

The wildlife team began tracking Nakoda in 2022 after she climbed the fence by the highway and has since moved her from the roadside three times, reported the New York Times.

The national park also introduced a no-stopping zone and reduced the speed limit on a section of the highway to prevent wildlife enthusiasts from clicking her picture, and that of other animals residing there.

“We recognize people come to see wildlife,” she said, “but there’s safe ways to view wildlife to prevent this.”

Her death has sparked concerns from the wildlife community.

“An emotional reaction,” said John E Marriott, wildlife photographer and co-founder of Exposed Wildlife Conservancy. “Photographers, tourists, everybody flocked to get out to see her. I think a lot of people developed a very deep, emotional connection with her. For a lot of people, she was the first grizzly bear they saw,” he was quoted as saying by Canada’s Global News.

“To have this kind of all unfold in the last couple weeks – first her cubs get hit and then within 24 hours, she gets hit and then within another 24 hours, she succumbs to those injuries – when I heard the news, it was devastating.”

According to Nicholas Scapillati, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation, grizzly bear deaths are going down due to efforts of wildlife officials and conservation groups “but we need to do more for nature”.

“The parks are doing a wonderful job of trying to protect (bears) but it’s sort of a Band-Aid situation. What we really need to be looking at is how we approach our relationship with nature, with these wild spaces, and these wild animals and give them the space and the opportunity to live the lives they need in the wild.

“We need to do a lot more management of ourselves,” Mr Scapillati told the Canadian outlet.