An underweight orphaned bear cub found in the Fernie area is now in the care of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society near Smithers for the winter.
The bear cub was caught with a live trap and brought in on Tuesday.
“We did a health check: it’s a female and weighs 18.8 pounds. This time of year, she should be weighing between 50 and 60 pounds and be a lot bigger,” said Angelika Langen, co-founder and manager of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society.
“That shows us that she’s probably been alone for quite some time. She doesn’t have enough body weight to hibernate, which is why she was still out.”
Langen said the bear cub will be fed and cared for over the winter, and will hopefully be ready for release by the spring.
“She has had a good night: her first meal and a full tummy. There’s a lot of sleeping right now to catch up,” said Langen. “Everything looks fine and we’re hoping she will do very well while she’s with us.”
Caring for wild animals keeps the society’s volunteer staff quite busy.
“We usually release them back into the region in June, when they would normally leave their mother,” explained Langen.
“In the meantime, they have enclosures that keep them away from people, they have minimal contact. We provide them with food and enrichment while they’re here to keep them busy and give them something to do while they’re here. Then, we let them grow into a state where they’re self-sufficient.”
The release sites are chosen based on food availability and if no other bears are in the area.
Langen said releasing animals back into the wild can be a tear-jerking experience for volunteers who spent time taking care of them.
“It was [emotional] for us at the beginning as well, but we’ve been doing this for 32 years now, and it’s kind of a highlight that we can let them go,” said Langen.
“For people who are doing it for the first time, especially if they raise the bears, it can be a very emotional time because it’s something very special to see them run out there, and the animals are usually very happy to leave.”
Last winter, the Northern Lights Wildlife Society cared for 10 bear cubs from the East Kootenay region.
“I think everything deserves a chance at life. Most of these cubs are orphaned because of some sort of human interference, mostly trains and vehicles, they cause a lot of death,” said Langen.
“We’re also learning and sharing practices and fine-tuning. We share with people around the world and that has affected programs in other countries where bear species are endangered and every bear counts,” explained Langen. “With what we’re learning, we can help them have good management practices and give those animals a fair chance.”
The Northern Lights Wildlife Society is a non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers with funding from donations.