A cub named Charlie: Black bear rescued by Alberta for first time since rehab ban lifted

Alberta has rescued its first black bear under a new policy that allows for private rehabilitation of orphaned or abandoned cubs.

Staff at Cochrane Ecological Institute named bear in honour of late naturalist Charlie Russell

Alberta has rescued its first orphaned black bear cub, shown in a handout photo, under a new policy that allows for private rehabilitation. Officials with the province say the bear was rescued yesterday by Fish and Wildlife officers in southwestern Alberta. (Canadian Press/HO-Alberta Environment)

Alberta has rescued its first black bear under a new policy that allows for private rehabilitation of orphaned or abandoned cubs.

Officials with the province said the bear was rescued Wednesday by Fish and Wildlife officers in southwestern Alberta.

"It was down by Coleman, north of Coleman," said Paul Frame, a provincial carnivore specialist with Alberta Environment. "Some people were random camping and this little bear wandered into camp.

"He was rooting around in some fire pits and it looked like he was searching for food."

The campers kept an eye on him for several hours before they called officers.

Frame said an officer went out and watched the cub for a little longer to determine whether the mother would return.

"He determined it was alone," he said. "We're not sure if it was orphaned or if it was abandoned.

"He's pretty small, so a lot of times mother bears will have numerous cubs and sometimes the runts will get left behind."

'It had to be Charlie'

The cub was to be transported northwest of Calgary to the Cochrane Ecological Institute, which recently received a permit to rehabilitate bear cubs.

"They were ready for it," said Frame.

Staff at the Cochrane rehabilitation centre picked the cub up Thursday morning and quickly dubbed the bear Charlie — in honour of Alberta naturalist Charlie Russell, who died earlier this month.

"It had to be Charlie," said Catriona Matheson, director at the Cochrane Ecological Institute.

"He's very timid right now. It's frightening for him, there's a lot of changes and so we're keeping him very much alone and quiet until he can relax and get his bearings," she said.

Eight-year ban lifted in April

A ban on rehabilitating black bears was lifted by the province in April after being in place since 2010. It allows wildlife staff to work with private facilities on the rehabilitation of cubs that are less than a year old.

Frame said he's hopeful for the cub.

"I'm interested and curious on how it's going to go," he said, adding that he just presented the new policy to bear experts at a conference in Colorado. "It got pretty good reception from folks."

Matheson said the care plan for Charlie involves keeping the cub as isolated as possible, other than feedings, to prevent him from getting too used to people. Charlie is supposed to be released in October, but Matheson said it's still too soon to tell how things will go.

The institute is doing everything it cans to ensure the program is a success.

"The government's going to come down and have a look and see how things are going to make sure that we're abiding by the protocols that we set out," she said. "That's wonderful because we want to be working together to continue on with this."

'Grizzly bears are different'

The policy doesn't allow for the rehabilitation of grizzly cubs, which became a concern earlier this month when a bear was killed by wildlife officers in Grande Cache after it was found on its own by two local residents.

Frame said they are reviewing whether to add grizzlies to the policy.

"Grizzly bears are different. They have a different life history and they require more care," he said. "But we are looking into it.

"There's a facility in B.C. that has over 10 years handled 21 grizzly bears."

Frame said they are talking to the B.C. government to see if they will amend the policy to allow out-of-province bears to be brought to the facility.

With files from CBC Calgary