Normally at this time of year, bears are fast asleep in their dens. But one young cub was too small and weak to go into hibernation.
He’s now spending some time at a rehab facility near Calgary.
Back in December, a farmer near Edmonton found the cub. At the time, it was so skinny and weak it could barely walk.
She contacted the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC) who was able to take the bear in at their facility northwest of Calgary.
“He was just purely trying to find food to survive to keep himself alive and he just became weaker and weaker and was unable to figure out the whole hibernation thing for his first winter,” said Erin Casper, the rehabilitation veterinarian at AIWC and the sole caretaker of the cub.
According to Casper, the young bear has put on some weight and gained strength during his stay.
“He’s only been here for two months and he’s already doubled his weight, we’re happy to say. And he has just really blossomed and he’s become a lot more active,” Casper said.
“He’s an excellent climber, excellent forager — showing all the signs that we want to see for a cub that’s ready for release.”
Caring for a bear over the winter is a first for the AIWC but after consulting some other rehab facilities across the country, they were able to set up a plan to get the cub back on track.
Before the cub is turned loose, the rehab team wants to make sure he is fully prepared for life in the wild.
“What we want to see is that he’s at a healthy weight and that he’s able to defend himself,” Casper said.
“And really, at this point in his life, defending himself means being able to climb up a tree very quickly and being able to run very fast.”
Rehab centre staff are confident the cub is well on his way and will be ready to survive on his own come spring.
According to experts, staying awake during the winter has no behavioural impact on bear cubs.
Next winter, the natural instinct to hibernate will still kick in.
“They’ve already spent all year long with their mother and they have all the skills they need to survive, it’s just a matter of getting them up to weight and releasing them in spring,” bear behaviour and rehabilitator biologist Benjamin Kilham said.