Three orphaned grizzly bear cubs came into the care of the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove this week, from the Calgary zoo after their mother was killed by hunters. (Greater Vancouver Zoo photo)

Three orphaned grizzly bear cubs came into the care of the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove this week, from the Calgary zoo after their mother was killed by hunters. (Greater Vancouver Zoo photo)

Conservationists raise concerns over state of care for grizzly cubs transferred to B.C. zoo

‘Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,’ urges B.C. conservationist Barb Murray

Three orphaned grizzly cubs now on display at the privately-owned Greater Vancouver Zoo represent a disappearing opportunity for survival of a threatened species, says conservationists.

General manager of the zoo, Serge Lussier, said Wednesday, “There’s two options for bears so young when the mother dies is euthanasia, or find an approved zoo.”

The trio were found by Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers in Crowsnest Pass in April after their mother was killed by hunters.

They were sent for care away from the public at the Calgary Zoo, who ended up passing the responsibility to the Aldergrove zoo.

During that time, 104 signatories – many B.C. and Alberta scientists or conservationists – wrote a letter to the Alberta government, urging the rehabilitation and release of the cubs back into the wild, “given that grizzly bears are a threatened species in Alberta,” the letter reads.

More specifically, “the age and health of these three cubs make them ideal candidates for the only grizzly cub rehabilitation program in North America, namely the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter in Smithers, B.C.”

The Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources sent an email statement to the Star, confirming the Smithers’ rehabilitation program was ruled out because it “is a pilot, and not considered operational.”

“Formal best management practices for the facility are in the process of being developed. These are critical to standardize facility construction, humane care and handling and proof of concept,” the statement continued.

Co-founder of the shelter, rehabilitationist Angelika Langen, has successfully released 22 bears into the wild during the 13 years the program has been in operation.

“Everyone says we are still in a pilot project and they are awaiting results, yet they don’t give us the cubs to prove it,” she remarked.

Of the three six-month-old grizzly cubs at Greater Vancouver Zoo – two of them are female.

“Our efforts to prove long-term [grizzly bear] survival and re-integration into the wild population would have made a big step forward with the females,” said Langen, noting their reproduction capabilities.

READ MORE: Aldergrove zoo reopens with masks, one-directional experience to tackle COVID-19

As it stands, in Alberta there are only 700 surviving grizzly bears, according to the Alberta Wilderness Association. This, compared to 15,000 most recently recorded in B.C. by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. 

Of 25 cubs government approved for the Northern Lights Wildlife project, only three were female, Langen emphasized.

B.C. bear researcher/biologist and letter signatory, Wayne McCrory, said the zoo’s one-acre enclosure is not nearly large enough to house the cubs for the rest of their lives.

“Bears are not social animals. They are very solitary individuals and like to have their own space,” said the grizzly bear researcher and biologist of 40 years.

“Typically, they range over very large areas, and that’s their freedom – that is their home.”

McCrory, also a director with the with the Valhalla Wilderness Committee, said that because the Calgary Zoo purposefully kept the cubs away from the public, they “have a good chance of being rehabilitated” and released back into Alberta wilderness.

READ MORE: Greater Vancouver Zoo animals suffer ‘boredom and frustration,’ humane society says

Greater Vancouver Zoo animal care manager, Menita Prasad, maintained that because the cubs are “human imprinted,” it is not ideal for them to be released into wild.

McCrory – with years of experience reducing human-bear conflict in Kananaskis Country, Alta. – said the zoo’s mission of educating Metro Vancouver’s public about the species is redundant, considering Grouse Mountain already “takes care of that with their two captive grizzly bears.”

“Ultimately, the zoo stands to profit by increased attendance from these captive bears,” McCrory said.

B.C. conservationist and director of Bears Matter, Barb Murray, along with other letter signatories, like McCrory, are in a race against time to see a bear rehabilitation expert examine the zoo’s new cubs to assess whether they are eligible for rehabilitation.

“We are prepared to pay the expert to fly in,” Murray said, “Six months isn’t that old.”

“Until we have a definitive answer from a bear expert it is a question mark we just can’t answer. Let them be assessed now before their fate is sealed,” she urged.

READ MORE: Aldergrove zoo announces free admission for frontline workers for the rest of 2020

The zoo in Aldergrove has previously been criticized for how it cares for its animals, particularly large species which have died in its care. 

Lussier, the zoo’s general manager, insisted the triplets are “adapting well to their new surroundings and are having fun discovering their new habitat.”

“We have the habitats, we have the experts, and were so proud to be a part of this,” he said.

AldergroveConservation

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chris Wilkinson
Chris Wilkinson column: Time to slow down to speed up

In a society where we learn (are forced?) to multitask like crazy

A COVID-19 exposure has been reported at Shawnigan Lake School. (Citizen file photo)
Island Health reports COVID-19 exposure at Shawnigan Lake School

Shawnigan Lake School has been added to the list of schools in… Continue reading

Peas are great to grow in the garden, but a trellis for them in an A frame shape will offer more portability and wind resistance. (Citizen file)
Mary Lowther column: Making a foldable pea trellis on winter agenda

My previous methods required starting anew every spring

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Books open up a world of discovery

We try to eat dinner as a family every night. It happens… Continue reading

The Cowichan Tribes’ gymnasium at 5574 River Road is now operating as an extreme weather shelter. (Submitted photo)
New extreme weather shelter opens on River Road in Duncan

New facility should relieve some pressure on Warmland House

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo hospital

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive, all on the same floor

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All Island seniors in long-term care will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Most Read