Alberta mulls end to policy that bans rehabilitation of orphaned bear cubs

Alberta is looking at possibly allowing orphaned bear cubs to be rehabilitated, after nearly a decade of prohibiting the practice.

At least 24 bear cubs have been euthanized since policy was established

These Alberta bear cubs were sent to the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario for rehabilitation, as Alberta currently does not allow the practice. (Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary)

Alberta is looking at possibly allowing orphaned bear cubs to be rehabilitated, after nearly a decade of prohibiting the practice.

"We've been aware of bear cubs in distress in the past in Alberta and it's something we have been thinking about doing and it's started to spur our conversation," said Travis Ripley, executive director of fish and wildlife policy for Alberta Environment and Parks.

Ripley said that the existing policy, which was enacted in 2010, prevents orphaned bears, along with other species, from being rescued and rehabilitated.

In October 2015, CBC News reported that 24 bear cubs had been euthanized due to the policy.

The policy was initially adopted because it was believed that bears, once put in contact with humans, can't be safely returned to the wild.

Provinces differ when it comes to how they handle orphaned cubs. B.C., Saskatchewan and Ontario allow orphaned cubs to be rehabilitated, while Alberta and Manitoba don't.

Manitoba Wildlife's website lists concerns with a lack of scientific consensus when it comes to rehabilitating bears, citing worries over whether or not released bears could have negative consequences for wild populations. 

But Mike McIntosh, of Bear With Us rehabilitation facility in Ontario, said his more than 25 years of experience working with bears indicates otherwise, and added that recent studies show rehabilitating orphaned cubs in their original habitat is the way to go.

McIntosh said he was "glad to hear" that Alberta is looking at changing its policy.

He said the key to successful rehabilitation is minimizing the amount of contact the animals have with people.

"It's crucial the bears have as little human contact as possible," McIntosh said. "That's our primary concern."

The debate over Alberta's current policy was sparked when three baby bears were found locked in a bathroom in Banff in early 2017.

The cubs were transported to Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Ontario, where they've been recovering in preparation for their return to Banff National Park sometime in 2018.

The sanctuary posted on Facebook on Saturday that the cubs are still doing well.

They had previously posted an update in December 2017, showing the cubs settling in for their winter hibernation.

Ripley said Alberta is hoping to have the protocol reviewed and discussed sometime in the next few months, but they have yet to set a definitive date for when the policy will be changed.

He said the province is working in collaboration with Alberta wildlife rehabilitation centres, taking feedback from experts and veterinarians, and looking at protocols in other jurisdictions that do allow rehabilitation, like Ontario.

Bear cubs are born in late January and Alberta's bear hunting season begins April 1.

"Ideally, we do know that cubs may become orphaned during the spring bear hunt in Alberta … so we are trying to anticipate having a protocol in place and agreed to before that hunting season begins in April," Ripley said.

About the Author

Sarah Rieger


Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at

With files from Elizabeth Snaddon