'Roly-poly' bear cubs found, mysteriously, in Banff washroom to return home soon
'They’re in pretty good shape, pretty roly-poly really'
These three abandoned bear cubs mystified Banff National Parks officials when they were discovered trapped inside a roadside washroom. But they've survived the winter in rehab and may soon be returning home.
The black bear cubs were found by a motorist at the facility at the Vermilion Lakes turnout just west of the Banff townsite on April 1, 2017.
After an exhaustive search for their mother yielded no results, they were sent for rehabilitation to the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Muskoka, Ont.
This week, they emerged from hibernation looking healthy and ready for a return to Banff later this spring, said Howard Smith, the sanctuary's managing director.
Staff checked on the bears last week for the first time since January, said Smith. They were awake but not yet ready to leave the comfort of their den.
"But the day before yesterday they actually ventured out and were wandering around in the snow, so we have begun a gentle feeding program," he said.
When they arrived at the sanctuary a year ago, the bears were about four months old and weighed just six pounds each, said Smith.
They now weigh more than 100 pounds each and have had as little interaction with humans as possible.
"Initially of course when they're small they had to be bottle fed on formula," he said.
"We had one individual primarily who was responsible and she wore a gown that was actually covered in bear scent and wore a mask. We're doing everything we can to minimize any sort of human activity.
"Once that phase was over and they were gradually brought in to eating harder food, we moved them out to our large isolated enclosure. We have 470 acres, it's all sort of wild bush country."
Food was thrown into the enclosure from the outside to further reduce the bears' exposure to people.
Feeding was stopped in December to allow the bears to enter hibernation, Smith said.
Odds for survival are good
Now that they're awake, the bears will be prepped to return to Banff later this spring, around mid-June.
Smith said the odds for survival are good.
"Research on rehabbed bears all over the world has shown they respond fairly well when released in suitable habitat, in suitable food conditions," he said.
"The park will be picking a spot that's isolated and has the best possible sources of food and habitat so their chances of survival will be maximized."
When they're ready, the bears will be transported by air in metal crates — the same way as the pandas that are now in residence at the Calgary Zoo.
Smith said his sanctuary has hosted about 50 bears in the last decade, but none from as far afield as Alberta. This province banned bear rehabilitation in 2010, however that policy has since been reviewed.
The provincial government has said it plans to announce new rules soon.
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- With files from The Homestretch