Death of grizzly cub puts Alberta's bear rehabilitation policies under scrutiny

The founder of a B.C. wildlife rehabilitation facility hopes the death of an abandoned grizzly bear cub brings change to Alberta's restrictive policies on bear rehabilitation.

Expert says province needs to loosen bear rehab policies after grizzly cub euthanized in Grande Cache

The grizzly bear cub, named Groot, was rescued near Grande Cache. (Kyla Woollard)

The founder of a B.C. wildlife rehabilitation facility hopes the death of an abandoned grizzly bear cub brings change to Alberta's restrictive policies on bear rehabilitation.

The bear cub was rescued by Brandy Gienger and Kyla Woollard last week near Grande Cache, Alta. They decided to bring it home on May 10, after watching it for five days to see if its mother would return. They fed it goat's milk and named it Groot.

Woollard said they resisted contacting fish and wildlife officers, because Alberta does not allow rehabilitation of grizzly bears and they thought the cub would be euthanized. The women were in touch with two out-of-province rehabilitation facilities in hopes the bear could be taken in, but the next day fish and wildlife officers seized the bear.

"Pretty much as soon as he was in their custody, they put him down," Wollard said.

A statement from Alberta Environment and Parks and Alberta Justice and Solicitor General said the bear was dehydrated, lethargic, and near death. Specialists did not believe it would survive, and no permanent care, such as a zoo, was available. 

Angelika Langen is the manager and co-founder of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, B.C. The rehabilitation centre specializes in nursing orphaned bears and moose to health and releasing them back into the wild. It does not have permits to accept out-of-province wildlife, but Langen said she was in contact with the women and was looking into options to help.

Last month, Alberta lifted a ban on rehabilitating orphaned black bears. But the province restricts grizzly bear cubs from being sent out of province, and there are no facilities available in the province to rehabilitate the bears. 

Langen said it's a policy that is "outdated," but the most recent grizzly cub death might change that. 

Sometimes unfortunately a sad story is needed to get change going.- Angelika Langen

"We have since been contacted by the Alberta government and we're trying to come up with something that would allow grizzly bears to come to us until, in Alberta, a facility exists that can rehabilitate them," she said.

"Sometimes, unfortunately a sad story is needed to get change going."

On Tuesday, Alberta Environment and Parks said in a statement they are working with wildlife rehabilitation organizations on this issue.

"Officials are currently exploring a wide range of options related to grizzly bear cub rehabilitation," the statement said.

"No commitments or decisions have been made."

Grizzlies require specific rehabilitation

Langen said she has been contacted by the Alberta government and has been told this is the last grizzly that will be put down if the province can work out an agreement with B.C. to temporarily take in Alberta cubs. 

She said she has rehabilitated more than 450 black bear cubs and 21 grizzly bears since her organization was formed in 2001.

Grizzly bears are smarter than black bears. To be successfully rehabilitated and released they require more space, a more remote location, and extremely limited handling by a small group of dedicated caretakers. Developing this kind of facility in Alberta would take years, Langen said. 

She said it's promising that the province relaxed its policies on rehabilitating black bears, and she thinks this grizzly's death will be the catalyst for more change.

Alberta is due for an overhaul of its policies restricting the rehabilitation of grizzly bears, she said, adding they should be updated based on scientific evidence. 

"Not only for bears but other wildlife, too, so that the public can turn with confidence to the [conservation] officers and they can help, and not be bound by outdated policies that no longer reflect the reality," Langen said.