Future uncertain for 3 bear cubs found locked in washroom in Banff National Park

Click to play video: 'Parks Canada working to find out how bear cubs got locked in road side bathroom'
Parks Canada working to find out how bear cubs got locked in road side bathroom
WATCH: Three little bear cubs are now being cared for by Parks Canada staff, after being found locked in a road side bathroom. As Jenna Freeman reports, officials are now trying to figure out how they ended up there, and where their mom is – Apr 7, 2017

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.

Three young black bears were found April 1 at the west washroom at the Vermilion Lakes pull-off, about three kilometres west of the western entrance to the town of Banff off the TransCanada Highway. Luey estimates they were born sometime this winter and are roughly three months old, and in the four- to six-pound weight range.

Click to play video: 'Black bear cubs found in Banff National Park restroom'
Black bear cubs found in Banff National Park restroom

“I don’t know how they came to be there; I can’t guess,” Luey said.

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“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.

Click to play video: 'Parks Canada to use fires, forest thinning to reduce grizzly bear train deaths'
Parks Canada to use fires, forest thinning to reduce grizzly bear train deaths

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.

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“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 contact with the bears limited to one person. 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,” Luey explained.

“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…trying to figure out what happened and how they came to be there [and are] focusing efforts on finding the best future we can.”

Possible options include transferring the cubs to a wildlife a rehabilitation centre (of which there are none in Banff, she said) or barring that, a certified zoo.

The Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, B.C., said it was contacted about rehabilitating the cubs, but British Columbia’s policy is to release bears back into the area from which they came.

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“So they called back a few hours later with permission to release the bears back into Banff [if they were suitable candidates after rehab],” co-founder and manager Angelika Langen said. “I then contacted the B.C. government to get permission to take in the cubs and they denied it, so that’s where our involvement ended, unfortunately.”

A Global News request to the B.C. and Alberta governments for comment was not returned by publication time.

Langen said her society has rehabilitated and released about 400 bears in the past 27 years. She said of those, only about six were unsuccessful.

She said the rehab process involves taking a bear in, assigning them to a caretaker and then mirroring what would have happened in the wild.

“The bear mother will take care of the cubs and will teach the cubs that other bears are a danger to it, because they would potentially be killed. Then we do the same with humans: so the human mother will teach the bear cubs to stay away from other humans,” she explained.

“It’s the person there that gives them the emotional support to be raised in an environment where they feel emotionally safe, and [having] a contact person as a mother… is really important for their development.”

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She said cubs would typically be kept until the next year in June, when they would naturally leave the mother. The young bears would then be released back into the area where they came from.

“The more contact they have with people, the more they’ll become habituated to people,” Luey said. “What really makes them successful…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 of the bears as they are “limiting unnatural actions and human interaction with the cubs.”

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