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COS says orphaned bear in Bralorne is too old to rehabilitate

Concerned locals wanted to step in to help the skinny yearling
The orphaned bear in Bralorne, B.C.

An orphaned bear near Bralorne is too old to rehabilitate, the BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) said in response to concerns raised by locals about the yearling’s well-being.

A photo of the young, emaciated bear on the roadside was posted to the Whistler Winter Facebook group. Many animal lovers were eager to step in and bring the bear to safety, worried the yearling would not be able to survive in the wild on its own. Some wildlife shelters, meanwhile, say they disagree with the province’s rules surrounding yearlings.

A spokesperson with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change confirmed the COS received reports of the bear and worked with wildlife biologists to determine its age. “The bear is a yearling, which is too old to rehabilitate,” they said in an email. “There are natural food sources available for the bear and recent reports indicate it has moved away from the roadway.”

Local woman, Michelle Nortje, first spotted the yearling last Friday, April 26, but hasn’t seen the animal since. “The cub is gone,” she said. “There is not much we can do without finding it. It’s an unfortunate situation that we couldn’t help. It wasn’t doing well. It wasn’t very mobile. It could only walk a few steps and then it would curl up in a ball. It was licking its abdomen.”  

She now fears the worst.

“I went to call it in,” said Nortje. “When I came back 45 minutes later, it was gone. I looked for it everywhere. There were coyote tracks in the area.”

She told Pique the nearest conservation officer is in 100 Mile House, and the area desperately needs its own designated officer. Nortje stressed the policy is not coming from those on the ground level. “It’s not coming from conservation officers. They have all been great and want to help," she said. "It’s coming from higher up in the ministry. It’s just a really bad policy that you can’t help yearlings no matter what their state or size is. The policy really needs to change ... This little guy was tiny. It wasn’t much bigger than a cub of the year.”

Bear advocate Ellie Lamb said the nearest rehab centre (Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, B.C.) could help if given the chance. “The regional manager of the [COS] has denied permission for Northern Lights to ensure safety for this orphan,” she said. “It’s very unlikely that it would survive on their own.”

There have been several orphaned yearlings spotted in the rural area over the last few weeks, including another struggling yearling about six weeks ago, Lamb said.

“The province turned down picking that yearling up as well," she said. "That yearling has not been seen in six weeks. It’s very unlikely that the yearling at Gold Bridge survived. There is another one that has been seen on the other side of town that isn’t doing well.”

Lamb explained any number of reasons could have led to the yearling’s mother’s death.

“There were fires there. There have been bears killed in defence of property,” she said. “We don’t know if it’s that or if mum was just hit by a car. These little guys just show up and that’s when we need to help them. That’s what the public want. They want to see these guys in care.”

Local rehab centres believe the bear would only need to be fed for a few weeks to get back to a good state of health, Lamb said, adding it was likely too thin to hibernate.

Lamb noted public opinion has been incredibly strong on this issue.

“When these little guys lose their mums, they are hollering for weeks,” she said. “It is very traumatizing for the public to know that this yearling could have a very good chance of surviving with a little bit of body weight on them. Without help, there is very little chance of survival.”

Angelika Langen, co-founder of Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, said they need special permission to help a yearling.

“We could help if we get government’s permission,” she said. “The biologists in that area have said no. We can only take yearlings with special permission. They are not willing to give us that permission.”

The shelter has cared for yearlings before, she added.  

“We do have bears that age in care right now. They don’t go out until June,” said Langen. “They only need a couple of weeks of good feeding and then they can go back out again. We have raised and released over 300 black bears. They are doing well out there. It’s not a problem.”

Jenna Kuncewicz, senior wildlife supervisor with Critter Care Wildlife Society in Langley, said its hands are also tied.

“The bears are all under conservation, so we need permission to get them,” she said. “We are also held to a regional limit. We can only take from certain regions and [Bralorne] is very far past our region. It’s a case-by-case basis. If a biologist gives the OK, then we are allowed to take them. We are also limited to just taking cubs of the year.”

Kuncewicz explained COS’ word is final. “We pretty much answer to conservation when it comes to bears,” she added.

However, she said there is hope the yearling will survive on its own.

“The winters can be really tough, but now that the frost is gone, there will be fruit and fish available,” said Kuncewicz. “That’s when it becomes a little bit easier for them to get food and survive. A lot of the time, if we leave them to do their own thing they will recover.”

In a follow-up email after Pique when to  press, communications director, Sean Leslie, said the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship understands people care deeply about wildlife.  

"Our approach to bears is informed by the latest wildlife management science and is designed to provide the best opportunity for wild animals to remain wild without intervention from humans," he said. "In the case of the yearling bear in Bralorne, this yearling bear was assessed by the Province with the assistance of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society, and it was deemed the bear is old enough and healthy enough to live naturally in the wild, as there are enough food sources nearby. Although outcomes in nature are always uncertain, this was deemed the best approach for the bear under these circumstances."





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