Conservation officers killed a yearling bear in Whistler yesterday after it accessed a bag of garbage during a time when bears are supposed to be in hibernation.
The cub was feeding on trash near Whistler Blackcomb’s Tube Park on Friday, Dec. 18, and returned to the busy area several times over the course of the day, according to Insp. Chris Doyle with the Conservation Officer Service (COS).
“Obviously given the situation with the snow cover, there’s no natural food available and the bear wasn’t denning and was persistent in returning to that area where it had gotten a food reward," he said. “Unfortunately we were put in a position where the bear was destroyed.”
Initially, conservation officers believed the emaciated bear was a cub of the year, which, under provincial guidelines, would have made it eligible for rehab at a care centre. The decision was made to destroy the bear only after it was determined the Critter Care facility in Langley was at full capacity, and that the animal would likely not have survived the winter. However, further analysis by a provincial veterinarian revealed it was in fact an undersized yearling bear, making it ineligible for rehabilitation.
“It may be that some of the cubs that we’re still seeing out are in the same kind of predicament: they’re stunted yearlings, which would explain why so many of them are still out,” added Doyle.
It’s been a challenging year for the resort’s bruin population, with an early ripening berry crop this summer making natural food scarce as bears prepared for hibernation in the fall. It’s an issue that has affected much of the South Coast as well this season, with a total of 32 orphaned cubs from across the region taken to Critter Care. Locally, officials have called the spike in orphaned cubs “unprecedented.”
“The problem (for orphaned cubs) is the mother bears have been killed. What we don’t know is why,” said Get Bear Smart Society director Sylvia Dolson. “We don’t know if it’s hunting-related or poaching-related or due to vehicle accidents. The problem for all cubs is that they didn’t get enough food this past season and now they are severely underweight and unable to survive hibernation.”
The majority of cubs the province has assessed this year have been significantly underweight, said Doyle, pointing to a shortage of natural food sources across the region.
In the event of a future food crisis, Dolson is hopeful an estimated $100,000 can be raised to expand the Critter Care facility.
“Looking ahead to next year, assuming (a food shortage) may or may not happen again in the future — I think with climate change there’s a good possibility it could — if we want to be ready for that then Critter Care needs to build a new bear enclosure,” she said.
The 23- by 20-metre structure would house up to 10 bears at a time and would include an isolation cage for newly rescued animals.
“It would be a really great thing if we could raise that $100,000 to help bears in the future,” Dolson added. “If people want to make a donation to Critter Care, certainly that would be quite useful.” To donate, visit www.crittercarewildlife.org.
Earlier this month a cub of the year was killed in Pemberton after repeatedly accessing food on a farming property.
“I don’t think it was non-natural food, but the assessment that the CO did on scene was that the bear was emaciated and wouldn’t survive the winter,” Doyle said.