Elk Island National Park cameras capture elusive black bears

People usually come to Elk Island National Park to catch a glimpse of bison — but these days, there’s a chance you might also spot a black bear.

Elk Island National Park is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of bison up close, but not many of the park's 200,000 visitors each year get the chance to see a bear.

Frances Stewart, a PhD student at the University of Victoria, set up trail cameras to study smaller animals such as coyotes, foxes and fishers. Instead, she found photos of black bears roaming the park, which is about 35 kilometres east of Edmonton.

The cameras are part of the Moraine Mesocarnivore Project, a community effort put together by Alberta Parks in collaboration with Alberta Innovates, the Friends of Elk Island National Park and Beaver Hills Initiative.

“We weren’t aiming to capture bears,” Stewart said. “It’s really just a fun coincidence that we did.”

Martha Allen, Elk Island National Park’s ecologist, said it’s “extremely uncommon” to see bears in the park, but it’s not unprecedented.

“We weren’t surprised,” she said. “We normally get one or two bear sightings every year in the park.”

Visitors to the Elk Island grounds are more likely to see bison, moose, deer and elk, but many are excited about the recent bear sightings.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” said Corbin Musselman. “It’s nice to know there’s some nature out here, and it’s not just the bison and the elk and ducks and everything. It’s other animals.”

However, Allen doesn’t expect the bears to stick around the park for long.

“In the past we don’t seem to have records of bears staying in the park for any length of time, so I would expect these guys will move on as well,” she said.