Concerned locals build den and leave food for injured black bear 'Russell' ahead of winter
An injured juvenile black bear continues to spend its days in a farmer’s field west of Calgary as the calls from the public for intervention from the government continue to grow as winter approaches.
The bear, which has been in the field since September, has been a constant in the field near the intersection of Highway 22 and Springbank Road and walks with a noticeable limp. The animal has not been examined but it appears the animal has an issue with its hind legs.
The province remains steadfast in its belief that the animal should be left to its own devices.
“We know Albertans are concerned,” said Robb Aishford, press secretary for the Minister of Environment and Parks. “There is a black bear close to the highway, we understand, but the best course of action, we believe, is to give it space. Hibernation should be imminent.”
Aishford says the province does not want the animal to become habituated.
“We never want to encourage human wildlife contact,” said Aishford. “We always want to encourage keeping the distance.”
While the provincial government has no plans to assist or relocate the animal, a number of well-intentioned citizens have gone out of their way to aid the bear that they’ve named ‘Russell the bear’ . The animal has been provided with food including pumpkins and deer carcasses.
“In normal circumstances, I never agree with feeding wildlife,” said biologist Lisa Dahlseide. “In this situation - because he is so unhealthy, because he was so injured - that feeding is likely what kept him alive and is what’s going to help him for hibernation as well.”
Dahlseide says the efforts of the public that have kept the animal alive could also potentially jeopardize the bear’s safety.
“I really commend these rogue feeders that have been out there doing that,” said the biologist. “However, by feeding him at the fence and by the road, it’s keeping him in that space and he’s not encouraged to go look for his own food source on the landscape.”
“The protein diet, the deer, is an attractant to predators who could then predate on this little injured bear as well.” Fish and Wildlife officers have been removing the carcasses from the field.
Dahlseide, who has a degree in conservation biology from the University of Alberta and has worked in wildlife rehabilitation for the last 22 years, says the bear’s best opportunity for survival would involve the province issuing a temporary shelter permit to the Cochrane Ecological Institute and relocating the animal to the facility. “They have the expertise and the facilities already for him and can overwinter him and have veterinarian care.”
Dahlseide says it’s not known if the bear, believed to be roughly 18 months old, has a natural den in the area and, since a transfer to the Cochrane Ecological Institute seems unlikely at this time, a makeshift den has been placed in the field to help the underweight animal through the winter months.
“He normally would be hibernating with his mom this year still so he’s lacking that support from his mother. He’s all alone and he doesn’t have the warmth of another body against him.”
“Our hope is that, in his efforts to go forage, he stumbles across this really cozy den that we’ve created for him that has extra insulation that should help him through the winter months.”
The provincial government continues to monitor the bear and confirms the animal has gained weight and its coat has thickened.
With files from CTV’s Brad MacLeod