One of the three orphaned black bears found in a washroom in Banff National Park three years ago was spotted on a wildlife camera Aug. 2.
“We captured a picture of this black bear, 1803, one of our rehab cubs from 2017,” said Blair Fyten, a human wildlife co-existence specialist with Parks Canada. “That was our first sighting of this particular bear.”
The bear’s identification number comes from the year on her ear tag (2018), and the three represents that she was the third black bear Parks Canada worked with that year.
The female black bear, who’s now three-and-a-half years old, was photographed just three kilometres from where the cubs were released back into the wild in July 2018.
“Our staff was very happy to see that one of these bears has survived,” Fyten told Global News.
“She looked in pretty good shape — a bit on the lanky side, but that’s what you’d expect for a teenager. It’s kind of typical for bears that age… scraggly hair,” he said.
After two years in the Banff National Park backcountry on her own, “she’s doing quite well.”
The three bear cubs were found in a roadside bathroom on the Trans-Canada Highway west of Banff on April 1, 2017.
After searching for three days and checking wildlife cameras, workers could not find the mother bear.
Due to provincial rules regarding rescue and rehab of bears in Alberta, Parks Canada sent the three female cubs to Ontario for rehabilitation. More than a year later, on July 17, 2018, the trio was released back into Banff’s backcountry.
Parks Canada confirmed one cub didn’t make it. Staff tracked her GPS collar to a location and found her carcass and evidence that she likely died from a grizzly bear attack.
Fyten said it was encouraging to see footage proving at least one of the three cubs was alive and well. The status of the third one is unknown. The GPS collars on the surviving two bears slipped off that first spring in the wild, but there was no evidence they died or were attacked, Fyten said.
“There’s still one we don’t know about,” he said. “It could be out there. It might not be.”
Parks Canada didn’t know how the bear cubs would do once they were released back into the backcountry.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Fyten said.
“Rehab bears in the past that have been released… there’s been fairly good survival but there are some deaths also… We just hoped that all three would make it.
“We’re happy that one of them has made it and the hard work our staff did to put the bears back on the landscape paid off.”
Fyten said Bear 1803 is “still learning her ways,” but seems to be finding natural food sources, doing a lot of grazing.
She’s lucked out this season, he said, because the buffaloberry crop this year is very robust.
“Bushes are just laden… really thick and productive,” Fyten said. “All of the bears we’ve noticed in the valley and the area where’s she’s at, they’re finding these berries and it’s a really good food source.”
He explained black bears are currently eating as much as possible to build up weight ahead of winter. They consume up to 200,000 berries a day.
“It’s one of best food sources we have in the park… It’s very important to them.”
Female black bears tend to go into dens around the end of October, depending on weather and food supply, and will stay there until next April or early May.
Fyten is asking any humans who see bears in Banff National Park to call Parks Canada dispatch as it likes to track bears’ activity and sightings.
He also asks everyone in the park to put all garbage in bear-proof garbage cans and don’t leave any attractants out.