Parks Canada is calling on residents and visitors to give a famous female grizzly bear plenty of space as she tries to carve out a living for herself and her three yearling cubs around the busy Banff townsite.
Wildlife officials were able to dart and tranquilize grizzly bear 64 in the Fenlands area on Sunday (May 27) in order to fit the aging sow with a GPS collar and ear transmitter to better track her movements.
A group of resource conservation officers closed off the Fenlands area for a few days to give the bruin time to recover from the drugs and the ordeal of being handled – but said she and her yearlings are healthy and well.
“She’s doing well, but she’s skinny, which is to be expected because she does have three yearlings she’s actively nursing,” said Steve Michel, human-wildlife conflict specialist for Banff National Park.
Grizzly bear 64 was first captured as part of a research project in June of 1999. It was determined at that time she had not yet had cubs, but in the following years she has produced two litters of cubs, possibly three.
The first sighting this year of bear 64 – a 23-year-old sow that is highly tolerant of people and human development – was on May 5 near the Cave and Basin and Marsh Loop.
Since then, Michel said, she has been travelling with her yearlings around the periphery of the Banff townsite, including the Cave and Basin area, Fenlands and Elkwoods area.
“Bear 64 is spending time looking for green grass and any sort of good vegetation and roots she can find, and she’s certainly spending time looking for elk calves,” he said.
“Her behaviour is quite predictable. She’s fairly relaxed, but she will not tolerate people getting too close.”
Michel said there is also another female grizzly with two yearlings travelling in much the same area – and people should always be on alert and prepared to give them the necessary space.
“If people are out to walk the dog, or for a bike ride, or an evening stroll, they should expect to encounter a bear and it may be a female bear with offspring, or even an elk with a calf hidden in the grass,” he said.
“People should be prepared for all eventualities when heading out, even though they may be literally a couple of minutes from the edge of the Banff townsite.”
Meanwhile, Parks Canada has caught two more male grizzly bears as part of the joint Canadian Pacific Railway-Parks Canada collaring project intended to reduce bear deaths on the train tracks.
Both bears were said to be healthy, though fairly thin, and weighed in at about 108 kilograms.
Bear 125 was darted with a tranquilizer and fitted with a GPS collar and ear transmitter on the railway tracks on the Alberta-B.C. border last week, while bear 126 was caught in a culvert trap on Saturday (May 26) near Castle Mountain.
Michel said bear 122, which was captured by the railway line near Hillsdale Meadows on April 18, dropped his collar May 17 on a south-facing slope of Mount Inglismaldie in Banff National Park.
That’s the same bear that found weaknesses in Banff’s food and waste handling system, getting into food scraps at the Castle Mountain biosolids site before the Town of Banff installed an electric fence.
Judging by the condition of the GPS collar, Michel said the 210-kg male grizzly was involved “in a fairly intense interaction” with another large male grizzly.
“It’s pretty clear from the collar that he got into fight with another large male; the collar was literally torn in two,” he said.
“There was also an issue with the design of that radio collar, so we’re addressing that with the manufacturer and we don’t intend to put on any more like that until the issue is addressed.”
After his initial capture in mid-April, bear 122 also made his way into another culvert trap between Banff and Canmore, lured by the smell of the meat, and had to be released.
The bear is still fitted with an ear transmitter, but because his movements can only be picked up when staff are using radio telemetry equipment, Michel said he’s hoping to recapture him.
“We hope he might go in again, but since he’s been trapped twice, I suspect it’s fairly unlikely,” he said.
Michel said bear 122 is continuing to roam widely, using all areas of the Bow Valley between Banff and Castle Junction, almost to the park’s eastern boundary, and into the north end of Kootenay National Park.
He said 122 cut through the Banff Springs Golf Course on Sunday (May 27) before heading into the Spray Valley.
“Now the information is much more anecdotal because we only get a location on him when we’re doing telemetry, but the data we got from him in the first month with the GPS collar was incredible,” Michel said.