BANFF – An orphaned grizzly bear cub appeared to be doing well when last spotted near the Banff townsite.
Parks Canada officials say the yearling bear that was left orphaned when its mother was killed on the train tracks near Vermilion Lakes on June 24 was seen July 6 and 9, but has not been spotted since.
Dan Rafla, a human-wildlife management specialist with Banff National Park, said a lack of sightings doesn’t mean the bear is dead.
“It’s important to recognize the landscape it learned was from its mother who was certainly a Bow Valley bear both in spring and fall, but was rarely seen, and often in summer would go into the high country and backcountry,” he said.
“We can make an assumption that the yearling won’t be seen very often just because of that pattern, and what the mother did teach her offspring while she was alive was keeping a low profile in the high country,” he added.
“Time will tell, but we think it has relatively good odds just because it was healthy and it’s not without precedent that yearling grizzly bears have survived in the past despite losing their mother.”
After Canadian Pacific Railway reported a bear strike on June 24, Parks Canada wildlife staff raced to the scene where they found grizzly bear No. 130 and one of two yearling cubs dead.
The surviving yearling appeared uninjured and was moving well.
Wildlife crews made a decision against intervening and to let the healthy yearling fend for itself in the wild, based on previous cases in Yoho National Park in which yearlings have survived without their mother.
There were no reports of the bear until July 6 and 9 when a young bear matching its description was seen on Tunnel Mountain near the far edges of the campground and in a wildlife corridor on the north side of the train tracks near Whiskey Creek.
There have been no reports of mortality on the train tracks or the Trans-Canada Highway of a young grizzly bear. One of the biggest threats to the young bear would be a large male bear.
Rafla said Parks Canada responded when the reports of the bear on July 6 and 9 came in, noting that both areas where the bear was seen were used by its mother over the years.
“It was just travelling and feeding, doing what a bear does,” he said. “We definitely felt confident it was the surviving yearling.”
Based on GPS collaring data from Bear 130 when she was part of the joint 2012-17 Canadian Pacific Railway-Parks Canada study looking at bear mortality on the train tracks, Parks Canada had a good idea of her home range.
In summer, Bear 130 preferred the more remote areas of the national park, primarily in the high country on the north side of the Bow Valley Parkway and in the Cascade Valley.
She did alter some of her home range based on food sources and availability, and also spending time on the Fairholme bench between Banff and Canmore and sometimes the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway further west in the Bow Valley.
“She used the high country in areas where people just don’t really travel – high bowls and cirques,” he said.
“It was great to have a grizzly bear persisting in the Bow Valley and rarely seen – up until this recent event – surviving on the landscape.”
Believed to be approaching somewhere in the range of 18 years old, maybe older, Bear 130 has had several litters of cubs.
She emerged from the den in spring 2020 with three cubs in tow, but was only seen with two of them earlier this year. The orphaned grizzly is the only remaining cub.
In 2016, CP reported hitting one, possibly two of 130’s cubs in the Muleshoe area, about 10 kilometres west of Banff. An intensive ground and air search failed to turn up any physical evidence of a strike, and the bears eventually showed up.
In 2014, male grizzly No. 136, also dubbed Split Lip for his disfigured mouth, was the prime suspect in killing another one of Bear 130’s litter of cubs based on his known whereabouts at the time of the cubs’ disappearance.
In October 2012, 130’s first litter of cubs was killed on the train tracks. Just days before, the two yearlings had returned to the busy Bow Valley with their mother from the remote Cascade Valley where they had spent much of the summer.
The hope is 130’s last remaining offspring will survive.
Parks Canada’s array of remote wildlife cameras throughout the park may provide a clue at some point on the bear’s whereabouts.
“We will look through them and that may also give us an indication if we do see any yearling grizzly bear cubs that match that description,” Rafla said.
“We can use that as another method to see if it’s still alive and where it might be travelling.”