Facing demands to help injured black bear west of Calgary, specialist warns against captivity

People around Alberta are calling for the province to help an injured black bear near Redwood Meadows, but a bear conservation specialist argues the animal should be left alone.

'I'm simply not convinced this is a last resort type of situation,' bear specialist Kevin Van Tighem says

This injured black bear has been seen limping in a field along Highway 22 west of Calgary. (Rob Evans)

People around Alberta are calling for the province to help an injured black bear west of Calgary, but a bear conservation specialist argues the animal should be left alone.

For more than a month, the young bear, called a yearling, has been seen limping in a farmer's field along Highway 22 near the small community of Redwood Meadows, about 40 kilometres west of Calgary.

It has an injured hind leg.

The bear isn't "thriving, but it's hanging in there," Kevin Van Tighem, who is also the former superintendent of Banff National Park, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

'Basically not doing anything'

Alberta's wildlife authority has determined the animal should be left alone, as it is able to move and scavenge to feed itself.

But some have been so moved by the bear's obvious injury that they've written the government requesting intervention.

"I agree there has to be science and policy in place," advocate Todd Wyatt told the Calgary Eyeopener. "But at some point, you do have a moral and ethical debate here on driving by and watching an animal that's obviously quite injured and basically not doing anything about it."

At issue for Wyatt is that, in 2010, the provincial legislation changed to prevent Alberta animal rehabilitation centres from caring for bears.

"It's too bad that they changed that," Wyatt said. "Many of the facilities between here and British Columbia would be willing to look after this bear and make sure it survives and gets through the winter but their hands are tied, I guess."

Intervening 'for ourselves'

Van Tighem agreed the province could take a second look at the rehab rules but cautioned rehabilitation is a "last resort." He gave the example of when nursing bear cubs are orphaned by a hunter and so can't survive alone. No Alberta facility is licensed to help cubs in that situation.

This bear, however, is feeding itself.

"To take an animal like that out of the wild, subject it to that kind of stress, on the off chance it might be able to help it, I don't think we're doing that for the bear. I think we're doing that for ourselves," he said.

"And if that's the case, we really need to look really closely at where we get the justification to do it."

Hibernation healing coming

For those who are worried, he noted bears have "remarkably good" healing abilities during hibernation, which starts in a few weeks. He said he's seen bears hit by cars and then emerge after their long winter's sleep with barely any sign of their injuries.

"Animals that are wild are very different from pets. They don't come to us for help; they flee from us. They value their wildness," Van Tighem said.

"I think depriving an animal of its wildness, even temporarily, and putting it into a captive situation, is something to do as a last resort. And I'm simply not convinced this is a last resort type of situation."

Alberta Environment and Parks also noted hibernation is only a few weeks away, bringing with it a strong chance the bear will continue to heal as it sleeps in the coming months.

The province will continue monitoring the bear, a spokesperson said.

With files from Caroline Wagner and the Calgary Eyeopener