Female bears and smaller males have headed to their dens for winter’s hibernation, but the two dominant big guys – Bear 122, referred to as The Boss, and 136, also known as Split Lip for a scar on his mouth that’s led to a disfigured lip – are thought to still be out and about.
A large grizzly bear, suspected to be No. 122, was reported near Banff on Nov. 7, prompting Parks Canada wildlife experts to remind people against becoming complacent when out recreating.
“I didn’t see him myself, but I know his pattern pretty good, so I assume it was 122, but I can’t say for certain,” said Dan Rafla, human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.
Three black bears that Parks Canada wildlife specialists fitted with collars for management purposes in Banff have made it safely to their dens.
One of those bears was struck in the westbound lanes along the 90-km/h Trans-Canada Highway about two kilometres east of the water tower on Aug. 29.
At that time, the bear made it up and over the fence and then lay on the other side for quite some time, before moving off into the trees. After quickly locating the bear, wildlife officials darted the animal to assess his injuries.
There were no broken limbs, but officials suspected he had chipped a bone off the shoulder blade. The animal was fitted with a GPS collar, so Parks Canada could keep an eye on how he fared.
“He’s still alive,” said Rafla.
“We haven’t received any GPS points from any of those bears for a quite a while, indicating they’ve denned.”
While bears tend to slow down during winter, they are not true hibernators.
Black bears and grizzly bears do go into a deep sleep during the winter months, known as torpor.
For this reason, Rafla said people should be aware of their surroundings when out and about, pointing to occasions when denning bears have been disturbed by skiers and ice climbers.
“They work pretty hard to put on weight and now this is their time when they’re denning in a deep torpor, but they could easily be disturbed and wake up at a very sensitive time in their animal cycle,” said Rafla.
“It’s a pretty difficult existence to make a go of it as a bear in the Bow Valley, and the challenges with all the people and it’s a bit of a harsh landscape, and now it’s a time where they rest and we have a responsibility to respect that period of their lives.”
In 2015, a famed Scottish climber had a lucky escape after being attacked by a grizzly bear was startled into defending its den high on the slopes of Mount Wilson in late November of that year.
Greg Boswell, considered one of the most talented climbers of his generation, was climbing with Britain’s Nick Bullock when the bear attacked him directly above steep cliffs about 2,200 metres up on the 3,261-metre mountain.
Bleeding badly from five large puncture wounds on his leg, Boswell still managed to abseil cliffs with his climbing buddy before making his way to Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff two hours away, where he was stitched up.
In April this year, a denning grizzly bear forced the closure of a backcountry area in the Hidden Bowl-Jimmy Junior Bowl area near Bow Lake. A group of skiers came across the den and spotted a grizzly inside.
“We know den sites where bears have been disturbed,” said Rafla. “Wherever there may be a closure for that reason, people should respect those closures.”
According to Bow Valley WildSmart, a black bear was seen in the Canmore area last week.
GPS data showed that some of the collared grizzly bears in Kananaskis Country have started heading towards their den sites from last year.
“That being said, there are non-collared bears that have recently been seen out and about searching for last minute calories down in K-Country,” according to the group’s website.
“With this in mind it is important that we do not become complacent when heading out on the trails.”
Residents and visitors are reminded to be vigilant while out recreating and remember to carry bear spray, and know how to use it.