Three orphaned black bear cubs released in Banff
Officials with Parks Canada say that a group of black bears that were found in a rest stop bathroom in Banff National Park last year are now roaming Alberta’s backcountry once more.
The young female bear cubs were found on April 1, 2017 at a rest stop near Vermilion Lakes, an area just west of the Town of Banff.
When they were found, there were just three months old and far too young to be away from their mother, but she could not be found despite an extensive search.
Parks Canada then made the decision to transfer the trio to a wildlife facility in Ontario that was properly equipped to handle the animals, with the intention of returning them to the park once they were old enough.
Ontario’s involvement in the situation was controversial because many believed that the bears should have been fostered within the province, but legislation passed in 2010 prevented the rehabilitation from being done locally.
Earlier this year, the Alberta government announced that a new policy was now in place to allow Alberta Fish and Wildlife to work with animal rehabilitation centres so that orphaned cubs could be cared for without leaving the province.
The new rules have already resulted in an orphaned brown black bear, found abandoned by officials in southwestern Alberta, being transferred to a care facility in Cochrane.
Now, Parks Canada says the three black bears from Vermilion Lakes, now a year old, were released in a remote setting in the backcountry.
It's still not known how the bears managed to get into the building, but Parks Canada officials believe they must have had help to get inside.
"We would really encourage anyone who knows more about that to contact us. We would like to know more to try and resolve that. We would like to discourage anyone from this sort of activity in the future," said Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager with Parks Canada.
Hunt says the job to prepare the bears for the wild without their mother's support has been done well and they are entering the circumstances with every possible advantage.
"I think we've done everything we can to set them up for success. The rehabilitation was done well and they are not used to people or are associating people with food. Secondly, they are heading into the wild in a bit better body condition. These bears are a little bit fatter, a little bit heavier than they would have been as wild bears."
Officials have extended their thanks to staff members at the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario for their help over the past 15 months.
Howard Smith, managing director of the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, says the three bears stuck close together while they were at the facility, but expects that to change as they get older.
"When they were released, they stayed together. They walked off and are probably going to stay together for some period of time. Eventually of course they will separate and go off on their own way once they get closer to breeding age."
The bears have been collared and tagged so that their progress can be tracked.