Three bear cubs that were discovered trapped inside a roadside washroom last year have now been returned home to Banff National Park.
The black bear cubs were found by a motorist at a roadside facility at the Vermilion Lakes turnout just west of the Banff townsite on April 1, 2017.
After an exhaustive search for their mother yielded no results, they were sent for rehabilitation to the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Muskoka, Ont.
The three orphans were successfully flown to Calgary in specially-designed crates in the early hours of Tuesday morning before being taken in a horse trailer to Banff and finally loaded into a sling beneath a helicopter. They were then flown out to Banff’s backcountry and released mid-day.
“The bears stepped out, had a look around, and actually began foraging on some nearby vegetation,” said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager with Parks Canada.
The three female bears are all sisters from the same litter, and were raised at the sanctuary in a way to hopefully ensure they won’t associate people with food, Hunt said.
“We would like to thank the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary for their exceptional work in raising the bears over the last 15 months. Our collective efforts have provided the bear cubs with the best opportunity for success,” Parks Canada said in a release.
When they arrived at the sanctuary a year ago, the bears were about four months old and weighed just six pounds each.
The yearlings now weigh more than 100 pounds each and have had as little interaction with humans as possible.
Once the bears were big enough to transition to solid food, the sanctuary — which contains 470 acres of natural habitat — built them a special, large enclosure to acclimatize the bears to the wild as best they could.
Bears given a fighting chance
Hunt said the young bears face a challenge to survive in the backcountry, especially without their mother, but that staff have tried to give them a fighting chance.
“These bears are a little bit fatter, a little heavier than they would have been as wild bears, so it gives them some time to learn their new habitat,” Hunt said.
“A lot of thought went into finding a place in Banff where they’d be best set up for success,” said Howard Smith, the sanctuary’s managing director.
Hunt said it’s still not known how the cubs became trapped in the washroom.
“We don’t have any additional information and it’s impossible to speculate how they got in there. We certainly speculate that they got some help from a person or persons,” he said, asking anyone with information to please contact Parks Canada.
The bears have been collared and tagged so parks staff can keep an eye on their well-being.