Car 0, grizzly 1: Bear survives without even a limp in crash that totals vehicle

A grizzly that was struck by a car travelling at about 100 km/h in Alberta doesn't seem to have suffered any lasting injuries, says the ecologist who later captured the bear to check him out.

Parks staff first thought Bear 164 had been fatally injured, but were in for a surprise

A seven-year-old male grizzly known as Bear 164 was hit by a car on the Trans-Canada Highway near Lac Des Arcs, Alta., in late July. The bear stayed in one place near the highway for a while, so parks staff thought he was dying. (Ray Perrott)

A grizzly that was struck by a car travelling at about 100 km/h in Alberta doesn't seem to have suffered any lasting injuries, says the ecologist who later captured the bear to check him out.

Bear 164 was crossing the Trans-Canada Highway near Lac Des Arcs, east of Canmore, on July 28 when he was struck by a vehicle, according to John Paczkowski, an ecologist for the Kananaskis area with Alberta Environment and Parks.

"The vehicle, I believe, was undriveable after the accident," said Paczkowski.

"We were fully expecting to go in and pick up a carcass."

The bear moved about 75 metres off the highway and stayed in one place for a while, leading Paczkowski and the other officials to assume he had crawled off to die.

But by the next morning, the grizzly was on the move.

Three days later, a conservation officer shot video of him moving around easily with just a slight limp, Paczkowski said.

Alberta Environment and Parks officials examine Bear 164 on Aug. 16 after darting the animal. By that time, the grizzly showed no signs of injury from being hit by the car three weeks earlier, says the ecologist who checked him out and set him free. (Alberta Environment and Parks)

On the advice of a veterinarian, parks officers waited about three weeks and then captured the bear at the Spray Lakes day-use area on Aug. 16 to assess him and put a new collar on him.

"We went over him twice head to toe with trained personnel, looking for any sign of injury, and we could not externally see any source of injury on the bear," he said.

We went over him twice head to toe … and we could not see any source of injury.- Parks ecologist John  Paczkowski

"I can't imagine being hit by a car at 100 km/h and three days later walking around, and then three weeks later he looks to be in pretty good shape."

The examination even revealed the bear had increased in weight from 70 kilograms to 133 kilograms in the last 14½ months.

Bear 164 first captured when courting

Bear 164 is believed to be about seven years old.

He has been living in the Kananaskis area for many years, Paczkowski said.

His known home range includes Peter Lougheed and Spray Valley provincial parks and parts of the Stoney First Nation. He also moves through the Bow Valley around Canmore and occasionally enters the Banff townsite area.

It's not known whether Bear 164 has ever succeeded in breeding.

"We first captured him as we were trying to recapture a female grizzly bear and he was kind of courting her for several days. So he was kind of, you know, beside her and giving her the, you know, 'come on, baby.' Nuzzling and trying to get her to go into estrous and potentially breed," he said.

"And as we tried to capture her, we got him instead."

Paczkowski says there are approximately 50 to 55 grizzlies in the Kananaskis area, and about five or six have been collared.

"Kananaskis Country has a very stable population. We have a lot of bears that have are born and lived their whole natural lives into their 20s in Kananaskis Country, bred and contributed to the Alberta grizzly bear population," he said.

"And I think it's one of the success stories of grizzly bear recovery in Alberta."

Don't ignore trail closures due to bears, parks urge

Meanwhile, the province is getting tough on people who ignore bear closure areas in the Bow Valley. The closures are meant to allow the animals to take advantage of a bumper berry crop.

Yellow tape and large signs signal the areas that are closed, which includes some popular hiking and biking trails.

But provincial wildlife conflict biologist Jay Honeyman says not everyone is getting the message.

"We see people when we're in there checking and we get a lot of reports from the public," he said.

"And there are a couple of cameras up, monitoring wildlife and such, and we're finding peoples' pictures on the cameras actually … in the closure."

So far, provincial officials have issued four tickets for violating the wildlife act — which carries a $115 fine.

There are bear closures in effect in these areas as of noon on Friday:

  • Northwest end of Ghost public land-use zone in Ghost River Wilderness Area.
  • Hidden Trail, Coal Mine and Centennial Ridge Trail in Evan-Thomas Provincial Recreation Area.
  • Boulton Campground Manager's Site in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
  • Quarry Lake, Grassi Lakes, Powerline and areas between Rundle Canal and Three Sisters Golf Course.
  • Paved bike path from Elkwood Campground to Mt. Sarrail Campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
  • Valleyview Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

The latest closure information can be found on the Alberta Environment and Parks site.

Bow Valley WildSmart spokesperson Nick de Ruyter knows people are getting frustrated because the closures have been in effect for more than a month. But he says the closures are for good reason. 

"I think more people should get ticketed because hopefully that will help make people think twice about going into that area, because it's a safety risk to themselves and a safety risk to the bears," he said. 

Alberta Parks asks people to report all bear sightings immediately by calling 403-591-7755.