Female bears and smaller males have headed to their dens for winter’s hibernation, but a couple of the larger dominant males seem to be still out and about, including bear No. 126 that was spotted in the parking lot by the Lake Louise train station on Sunday (Nov. 24).
While the chilly temperatures this week may encourage the large males into dens sooner rather than later, Parks Canada wildlife experts remind people against becoming complacent when out recreating.
“The fact is big male grizzly bears are probably still out,” said Dan Rafla, human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park
“This is not unusual and they may still be around until early December.”
Kaustubh Parab was about to go cross-country skiing with his wife on the Bow River Loop when they saw Bear No. 126 on Sunday in the parking lot by the train station."My wife was getting out of the car and I saw the bear right beside the car, so I told her not to open the door," he said.
"She would have actually banged the door on him if I hadn't seen him. He was that close. I don't know what would have happened if she'd opened the door."
Bear No. 126 continued on his way to the Bow River Loop trail.
"We called Parks Canada because we saw one couple with two kids who just went on the trail," said Parab.
Parab said he was a little surprised to see the bear at this time of year, but noted he had his bear spray with him that day."People should carry bear spray, for sure," he said. "People think it's too late, but this shows you just never know."
A big grizzly bear, believed to be No. 122, also known as The Boss, was spotted near Banff on Nov. 7.
“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 Rafla.
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.