British Columbia

Sighting of a lifetime: Whale watchers find, rescue orphaned bear cub near Tofino

The bear cub is being treated and rehabbed at a Vancouver Island wildlife facility which hopes to be able to release it in about 18 months.

Conservation officer says rescuing bear cubs not something just anyone should do

A tiny bear cub was spotted on an island near Tofino, B.C., on Friday afternoon, attempting to suckle from its dead mother. (Jennifer Steven)

It was a sad sight that led to a happy ending.

A tiny bear cub was spotted on an island near Tofino, B.C., on Friday afternoon, attempting to suckle from its dead mother.

Fortunately, after a whale watcher spotted the lonely animal en route to Hot Springs Cove, fellow tour operator John Forde and his wife, Jennifer Steven, sprang into action to save it.

"We wanted to see if there was anything we could do for this cub," Forde told All Points West host Jason D'Souza.

"It's still 100 per cent dependent on the mother and would definitely perish if left on its own."

Forde says he, Steven and a third person took a boat to the island and dropped anchor.

John Forde holds the bear cub after rescuing it from an island near Tofino. (Jennifer Steven)

They decided to take the bear but it ran up a tree. They were losing light and decided to try again in the morning.

When they returned, they found the bear sleeping on its dead mother.

After a bit of a struggle, he was able to wrangle it in a jacket.

"It put up quite a ruckus," Forde said. "A lot of screaming, and crying, and chomping away and clawing at me, but I was able to hold onto it."

Bear to be rehabbed

The cub is now at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington, where staff are now caring for eight bears.

It is hungrily eating pablum with vitamins and recovering from being underweight.

"We estimate he's probably eight to 12 weeks old," said Sylvia Campbell, who runs NIWRA with her husband, Robin Campbell.

"Many times the babies don't leave the mother. They try to suckle while she's deceased, so it's just a really sad, sad scenario."

By the condition of the cub's mother, Forde estimate she'd been dead for days. Robin Campbell said the cub didn't have long to live without being rescued.

The centre says they will nurse the cub back to health but over the next few days he'll be distanced from his caregivers

They hope the cub will be returned to the wild in about 18 months.

The cub is currently being fed pablum with vitamins — and is evidently a bit of a messy eater. (Chek News)

Don't try this at home

Conservation officer Stuart Bates said Forde essentially did what he would have done with the bear — capture it and take it to a rehab facility.

Bates said the conservation service received the call about the bear cub as well, but Forde completed his rescue first.

While Forde said he's grateful the bear was captured, especially without the use of drugs, this is not something he suggests trying at home.

"I wouldn't recommend  that the average member of the general public go grabbing a bear cub by the scruff of the neck, no," Bates said. "Unlike dogs, they can reach the back of their neck.

"Speaking from personal experience, bear cubs have very sharp claws."

Listen to the full interview with John Forde:

With files from Amanda Farrell-Low, Chek News and CBC Radio One's All Points West