British Columbia

Garbage-addicted rare white bear will not be put down

One of the most photographed bears in the Rocky Mountains will not be euthanized, conservation officers say.

1 of 2 sister black bears with white fur has returned to Elkford after a relocation last year

Conservation officers shoot dozens of black bears every year in B.C.'s Elk Valley region but spared two white-furred cubs, seen here in a 2011 photo, and relocated them to Alberta. (Kristy Aronson photo)

A rare white-furred bear that has wandered back to a small town in southeastern B.C. to feast the community's garbage will not be euthanized, conservation officers say.

"We are looking at alternate solutions here ... perhaps a sanctuary placement or relocation," said Sgt. Joe Caravetta, who says a trap has been set for the cub. 

"I'd say one of the options is going to happen for sure."

The bear is one of two white bear cubs — a pair of sisters — that began lingering around the town of Elkford, B.C. in the fall of 2011.

They got into the habit of picking through garbage for food and by 2012 the white-furred bears, which are actually the same species as regular black bears, were habituated to people and had outstayed their welcome.

But because of the rare colour of their fur, conservation officers made an exception. Rather than shoot the bears, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service trapped and relocated them about 100 kilometres to the north, to a wilder area in Alberta's Kananaskis Country.

Now, one of the two white-furred bears has wandered back into town, and fallen back into its old ways.

Duncan McDonald, Elkford's public works director, said town residents have likely become a little careless in storing their garbage since the bears were moved.

"Because we haven't had any bears yet this year, people have probably forgotten to keep their cans in garages or sheds to make it tougher for her to get at them," he said.

"We've put out reminders to get people to please put their cans away, and then for people who have no other recourse — if they don't have a garage or a shed — we have purchased a few bear-resistant bear cans which we're trying to disperse out to those people who really need them where the bear's coming back repetitively."

The second white black bear cub removed last year from Elkford has not yet been spotted around town.

"We had a report that one of them had been seen in the Kananaskis area of Alberta [but] we never did get confirmation," Caravetta said.

The white fur of the black bear cub is linked to a recessive gene and is not to be mistaken for B.C.'s Kermode bear, also known as the "spirit bear," which are associated with coastal areas like Terrace and Prince Rupert.