Conservation officers have confirmed that the mother of the two orphaned bear cubs had been shot, likely by a hunter, by mistake, and left unreported. The two cubs were left to fend for themselves.
Ray Gilewicz, a conservation officer out of Cranbrook, said the sow had been shot a couple of days prior to the cubs being encountered by the hikers. He said it looked as though the sow was shot and left for no particular reason. There is a hunting season for black bears right now, but an accidental shooting should have been reported.
“It is illegal to shoot a black bear or Grizzly bear that is less than two years of age or any bear in its accompaniment,” Gilewicz explained. “So basically it is prohibited to hunt sows and cubs.”
He said what possibly happened was someone may have shot the bear without seeing the cubs or realizing it was a sow.
“This person does have the responsibility to report that to us as an accidental killing of wildlife, perhaps not knowing it was a sow with cubs,” he said. “The cubs did end up going to the Northern Lights Wildlife shelter, but my understanding is they had likely been out there for a couple days before they’d been found.”
The bear cubs were dehydrated and starving when they were finally found and captured by Cranbrook residents working on behalf of the wildlife shelter.
The young male and female cubs are now at the Northern Lights Wildlife Society shelter in Smithers, B.C.
Angelika Langen, manager at the shelter, said the bear cubs are on the road to recovery after a long journey by car on Monday, May 19.
“They are starting to gain weight and they are looking better physically,” Langen said. “They are not as weak. They can sit up a little bit and it looks like they are recuperating.”
Langen said the cubs are still extremely frightened though, as they have been traumatized by the whole experience quite severely.
“So mentally they are still going to need some time for healing, but being that there are two of them, that will really help them to rely on each other and get over that fear of being alone, and losing their mom,” she said. “They are definitely not out of the woods yet, but we are cautiously optimistic that they are going to be fine.”
She said they have had several bear cubs like this before and a young cub in a similar situation came in earlier this year.
“We have one here already who is going to be tickled pink once he can get together with these guys,” she said. “He is quite lonely by himself, so in a couple weeks when the other ones have recuperated enough that they can play, we’re going to introduce them to each other and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
She said the cubs will stay at the shelter until next year, when they are about a year old, and would naturally disperse from their mother. At that time they will be reintroduced to the East Kootenay region with the help of the conservation officers and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Two years ago the shelter society started a program to raise money for radio collars on the released bears in order to get information on how the bears fair once they are released.
Back in Cranbrook, the conservation officers are looking for any information on who may have shot the sow.
“As a hunter, we recognize that accidents can occur from time to time,” Gilewisc said. “He does have a responsibility, under the Wildlife Act, to report what we consider to be an accidental shooting.”
If he had reported the accidental killing, the hunter could still be charged or warned depending on the circumstances. The charge for accidental shooting is less severe than the charge for failing to report an accidental shooting if the hunter is charged.
Those convicted under the Wildlife Act could receive fines up to $25,000 and/or six months imprisonment for the majority of offences.
“We do have an open enforcement file on it, and we’d appreciate any assistance from the public who may have seen somebody in the general area of the Bull River Dam, sometime around May 16,” he said. The Report All Poachers and Polluters is a toll-free anonymous tip line at 1-877-952-7277. There is also a form to report incidents online at www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/rapp/rapp.html.