Province lifts ban on rehabbing orphaned black bear cubs

The Alberta Government has introduced policy that will allow wildlife rehabilitation facilities to accept orphaned black bear cubs.

'Bears are not an animal that really needs to be feared'

Estimated to be a couple of months old, this black bear was rescued in southern Manitoba after its mother was found dead. Alberta is lifting a ban on rehabilitating orphaned black bear cubs under the age of 12 months. (Manitoba Bear Rehabilitation Centre)

Orphaned black bear cubs have been given a reprieve by a new provincial policy that allows for them to be rehabilitated.

The new policy reverses a ban that's been on the books since 2010.

Lisa Dahlseide, a wildlife biologist with the Cochrane Ecological Institute, says that ban resulted in the euthanizing of at least 24 black bear cubs, according to data collected from a report released in 2015. 

Dahlseide described the change in policy as "wonderful news" in a Wednesday interview on The Homestretch.

"[The change has been] a long time coming for black bear cubs," she said. "It really is good news, because no longer will the Alberta government be euthanizing them."

Instead, orphaned black bears under 12 months of age can be rehabilitated at places like the Cochrane Ecological Institute, or any other wildlife rehabilitation centre across the province that has approved facilities for bear cubs.

This is a photo of an enclosure where orphaned black bear cubs are rehabilitated, at the Cochrane Ecological Institute. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC News)

The rehabilitation process involves a combination of human interaction, and teaching it how to survive without people involved.

"Generally they come and they're very small," Dahlseide said. "They're still drinking milk, because they're mammals. And so what happens is it's very limited exposure with people — they only have one human that interacts with them to give them the bottle. As soon as they are done with bottle feeding, then that human interaction is done with as well."

Adding water features to enclosures

At the Cochrane Ecological Institute, Dahlseide said orphaned bears stay in large enclosures — ranging from six to 20 acres — which are full of native food, as well as trees and other interactive things to give them exercise and learn to get fed without relying on people.

"There's a lot that goes into rehabbing them to avoid habituation and food conditioning," she said.

The institute is currently raising funds, through donations, to add water features to each enclosure, which is part of the requirements for the new government protocol.

"That's actually a really good thing for the bears," Dahlseide said. "Hopefully those water features can be stocked with fish, so they can get that experience."

The new protocols include the stipulation that each bear enclosure must have a water feature. (Paul Conrad/Associated Press)

Other bears and other species not included

The new policy does not apply to orphaned grizzly bears, which are still euthanized — a policy that Dahlseide says is wrong-headed.

"Science has actually shown there are no known negative human conflicts with grizzly bears, post-relief," Dahlseide said. "Other places in the world do rehabilitate them successfully —  so I'm hoping the provincial government will be considering them and hopefully including them in the bear protocol as well."

She pointed to the research of naturalist Charlie Russell, who has done extensive studies of grizzlies, Dahlseide said there's no reason for people to be afraid.

"His research with bears has proven that bears are not an animal that really needs to be feared. If we trust them, they'll trust us as well."

'No evidence, data or science to support those bans'

The list of orphaned animals banned from rehabilitation is not confined to grizzlies, either, Dahlseide said, adding "and again, the province has no evidence, data or science to support those bans. So we want to see that lifted for all species."

Rallies are planned on Saturday in Calgary and Edmonton, calling for the lifting of the ban on all orphaned animals.

The Calgary rally takes place at Municipal Plaza, next to city hall, between 3 and 7 p.m.

"We wanted to show our support for the grizzly bears, the foxes, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, and elk — the list goes on and on," Dahlseide said. "All the animals that the province currently doesn't allow for rehabilitation."


With files from The Homestretch

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca