Parks Canada is investigating a so-called mystery after a driver who stopped to use the facilities in Banff National Park came across an unlikely trio in the bathroom.
“They opened the door and took a second look,” Banff field unit acting superintendent Sheila Luey told Global News, noting the traveller promptly shut the door and called parks officials. “Usually there’s not anything or anyone in there…or you’re hoping there isn’t.
“This is a mystery.”
Three young black bears were found Saturday, April 1 at the west washroom at the Vermilion Lakes pull-off, about three kilometres west of the west entrance to the town of Banff off the TransCanada Highway. Luey estimates they were born sometime this winter and are roughly three months old in the four to six-pound weight range.
“I don’t know how they came to be there; I can’t guess,” Luey said.
“But they have now been separated from their mother for about a week and I think it’s unlikely we’ll find the mother at this point.”
Parks Canada wildlife staff immediately began scouring the area for the mother bear last Saturday, searching the side of the road, the forest, wildlife crossings and underpasses for about 36 hours. There was no sign of the mother or any signs of bear activity in the area.
Watch below from Jan. 25: A five-year study has concluded that better wildlife travel routes in areas with a high risk for bear-train collisions are one of the best ways of keeping the animals safe in Banff National Park. Global’s Jayme Doll reports.
Provincial authorities have been notified in both British Columbia and Alberta as wardens continue to investigate. Parks Canada declined to speculate on what charges could be laid if a person is involved, but encouraged anyone with information to call park dispatch at 403-762-1470.
“There probably are situations where females have abandoned their cubs but it’s unusual they’d be able to get them into the washroom to do that,” Luey said. “Typically sows are very good mothers and very protective of their cubs.”
Luey said staff are currently caring for the cubs at a Parks Canada facility, trying to keep it to one person who’s making contact with them. They’re being hand-fed with a bottle of goat’s milk, with the goal of transitioning to solids: “kind of like mush…baby food for bears.”
“Cubs at this age would normally be with their mother, feeding off her milk, spending next year learning how to forage and fend for themselves in the wild,” she said. “Orphan cubs have a tough go of it. We are currently—as well as trying to figure out what happened and how they came to be there—we’re currently focusing efforts on finding the best future we can.”
Possible options include a rehabilitation centre (of which there are none in Banff, she said) or barring that, a certified zoo.
“The more contact they have with people, the more they’ll become habituated to people. What really makes them successful in their life is if they can live in a wild landscape with a healthy fear of people. That tends not to happen if bears associate people and food.
“These little things should be with their mother right now and they’re not, they’re not likely to be. We need to land them in the next best spot.”
Parks Canada spokesperson Christina Tricomi said staff are unable to send any other photos as they are “limiting unnatural actions and human interaction with the cubs.”
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