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

Seattle Mariners field coordinator Carson Vitale before a game at T-Mobile Park during the 2020 season. Vitale, who grew up in Victoria, has pledged to run 10 miles a day for 2021 and to donate 50 cents per mile to the United Way of King County. (Ben Van Houten/Seattle Mariners)
Mariners coach running 10 miles a day for United Way

Saanich-raised Carson Vitale, Seattle Mariners field coordinator, plans to run 3,650 miles in 2021

A rainbow graces the departure of CCGS John Cabot as it leaves Victoria Jan. 7. (Canadian Coast Guard/Facebook)
Follow a coast guard ship’s trip from Victoria to Halifax, through Panama Canal

Canadian Coast Guard Ship John Cabot left for St. Johns on Jan. 7

Gordon English, construction manager of the Habitat for Humanity project in North Saanich, shows off the current interior of a townhouse part of the affordable housing project. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Families set to move in to affordable housing project in North Saanich by spring

Pending completion of Habitat for Humanity project comes against backdrop of new housing report

(Google Maps)
Sophisticated glass-removal crime returns to downtown Victoria

Several businesses on Fort Street targeted overnight, say police

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open to Jan. 15

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read