A male grizzly bear has been moved to a more remote area of the province after breaking into a shed and killing a sheep dangerously close to where children were sleeping.
The five-year-old grizzly, known as bear No. 116, had been hanging around the YMCA’s Camp Chief Hector in Kananaskis for the last few weeks, feasting on cow parsnip.
But, on the night of July 12, he broke into a shed and killed one of four sheep being raised near the horse corrals – about 300 metres from where young campers were spending the night in teepees.
Alberta conservation officers say they had no choice but to relocate the bear into a wilder region of Alberta, north of Grande Cache, saying the potential risk was too great.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the outcome because we were hoping he would move off, but, unfortunately, once he had received a food reward of sheep, there was no doubt he would be back,” said Melanie Percy, senior park ecologist for Alberta Parks K-Country region.
“It might have been different if it was a one-off incident on a farm, but to have 450 children running around and having a grizzly bear whose behaviour is escalating, we couldn’t take that risk,” she added.
“Once a bear rips into a hard-sided structure, his behaviour is considered to have escalated to a point it was well beyond our comfort level having him on the same landscape with children.”
This grizzly was caught in the Spray Valley last year and fitted with an ear transmitter. He became the subject of aversive conditioning to keep him away from roads, where he liked to feast on buffalo berry.
Percy said he never showed any aggression towards people.
She said he kept a fairly low profile last year and denned around Mount Lougheed, but this spring he began coming into Camp Chief Hector under the cover of darkness to feed on lush grass.
“He’d move off early morning, and although there weren’t campers there at that time, we were concerned he was fairly tolerant and comfortable being around buildings,” she said.
At that time, the province planned to move him out of the area, but within another part of his home range, and so set traps to catch him.
By the July long weekend they still hadn’t caught him, so they set up an electric fence around the teepees in the area he had been feeding, to keep him away.
But on July 12, Percy said he was feeding in the area around the horse corral, and ripped the siding off a wooden shed where four sheep were being raised, killing one of the sheep.
She said Wind River Bear Institute, which uses karelian bear dogs, hazed bear No. 116 away from the forest edge, where he had the sheep carcass.
Staff worked hard to secure the site, she said, setting up three more traps. In the end, they free-range darted the bear when he made a beeline back to the sheep pen about 8 p.m. July 13.
“We knew he would be back because he had been pushed off half of a sheep carcass, so he was coming back to find it,” said Percy.
Percy said his chances of survival are variable, saying moving grizzly bears out of their home ranges is a last resort.
“We’re putting bears in the best possible place for their survival, as well as trying to minimize the chance of getting into this type of trouble again,” she said.
“His chances of survival are variable, but if it’s a slim chance, a slim chance is better than no chance at all and we feel he wouldn’t be able to survive in the Bow Valley.”