Five cubs were orphaned near Bragg Creek; animal rescue ban in effect

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Some experts say the province should lift its temporary ban on cub rehabilitation facilities

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The recent orphan of five black bear cubs in the Bragg Creek area has reignited demands that the province ease its restriction on wildlife rehabilitation.

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A group of wildlife experts say the deaths of two mother bears who left five of their offspring adrift offers an opportunity to change the way orphaned cubs are treated.

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Earlier this summer, a female bear was struck and killed on Highway 22 near the foothills hamlet, leaving two orphan cubs.

This was followed by a similarly killed male adult bear.

Then, on August 28, a provincial fish and wildlife officer shot and killed a mother bruin after her repeated encounters with residents, leaving behind three cubs.

Garbage left by residents had attracted the bears, an Alberta Environment and Parks official said.

The five seven- to eight-month-old cubs are believed to still be in the area, said biologist Lisa Dahlseide.

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“The cubs are still alone – three orphaned cubs have been seen two or three times by locals,” said Dahlseide, director of education at the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI).

But she said that and a provincial ban on rehabilitation facilities accepting bear cubs from July 1 to January 1 has revived demands for the province to rethink that reluctance.

“We’re the only jurisdiction with this rule, I’ve never seen any scientific evidence to back it up,” Dahlseide said.

She said the CEI was ready to welcome the cubs to its 4.5-acre enclosure, but noted that the facility had had its license revoked indefinitely following a dispute with the province which accused it of transporting and improperly handling an orphaned bear cub in May 2021.

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That doesn’t sit well with Bragg Creek residents who were scheduled to meet with wildlife experts Wednesday night to discuss ways to rehabilitate the animals and reduce cases of them being orphaned, Dahlseide said.

“People (in Bragg Creek) really mourn the loss of this mother (who was shot). . . They are pretty crazy about the policies in place,” she said.

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Meeting attendees will also hear details of a partnership between the Kainai Nation, the University of Calgary and CEI that would see bear cubs rehabilitated at the Cochrane area facility over the winter and then released into the nature on First Nations lands in southern Alberta. , who would monitor the fate of these animals.

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“There is a gap in bear rehabilitation research and this could be an opportunity to fill that gap,” Dahlseide said.

But she said that would require a research permit from the province.

Sarah Elmeligi, a Canmore-based private bear biologist, agreed that the province’s approach to bear rehabilitation needed to be redesigned.

“Their rehab protocol can definitely be updated with science,” she said.

“Something I’ve always struggled with is the bear response protocol. . . they are too fast to move bears, although there are occasions when bears must be physically moved.

Even better, it would be better to ensure the cubs don’t become orphans, by reducing bruin-human conflict, Elmeligi said.

This includes better management of pet food, garbage and fruit trees that attract bears, she said.

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“It really starts with you in your own backyard, so there’s nothing to keep them there and they’ll go to where food is more available,” she said.

Communities and governments must also find ways to reduce traffic collisions with bears and other animals, as Highway 22 near Bragg Creek becomes increasingly busy.

Provincial officials will continue to monitor orphaned cubs around Bragg Creek and determine what is best for them, Alberta Environment and Parks spokeswoman Hayley Martin said in an email.

The cubs in question are too old to require rehabilitation, a practice that must be weighed against the habituation of bears in human captivity, she added.

“TThe best option is always to leave animals in the wild as much as possible,” Martin said.

“Research on wildlife rehabilitation indicates that human intervention is likely to cause more harm to these young depending on their age.”

The Wildlife Conservation Institute of Alberta will continue to rehabilitate bears as needed, Martin said.

Since the CEI is challenging the ban on its ability to rehabilitate bears in court, the province will not comment on the ban which has been extended until at least March 31, 2023, she said.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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