Red tape, tragic circumstances blamed for B.C. cubs in permanent captivity
By now, you’ve probably seen images of adorable grizzly bear cubs that now live at a Fraser Valley zoo, but CTV News has learned the story behind their sad fate in captivity is as complex as it is heartbreaking.
Aldergrove’s Greater Vancouver Zoo proudly unveiled the three cubs at a press conference photo op Wednesday morning, explaining that the Calgary Zoo had asked for help rehoming the animals in a larger facility after they’d dropped in their laps when their mother was killed by a hunter in the Crowsnest Pass in May.
“There's two options for bears so young when the mother dies – euthanasia or find an approved zoo," said Serge Lussier, general manager of the Greater Vancouver Zoo. “I want to save their lives, I want them to be ambassadors to their species because over here what we do best is connect people to nature."
The cubs had been a lightning rod for controversy in Alberta, where dozens of scientists and conservationists had urged the provincial government to relax its rules around rehabilitating the five-month-old cubs; since 2010, grizzlies have not been eligible for rehabilitation and release in that province.
Read more on this story from CTVNewsCalgary.ca
CTV News Vancouver has now learned that as those advocates sought to convince Alberta officials to change, or at least bend, policy around grizzlies, B.C.’s foremost bear rehabilitation group was trying to bring the orphaned cubs to their facility in Smithers.
There, says the co-founder of Northern Lights Wildlife Society, they could feed and care for them with minimal impact until they were old enough to release back into the wild with a reasonable chance of survival.
“They got caught in red tape," said Angelika Langen.
Langen said provincial officials told her that while the bears were taken from the Crowsnest Pass area, where the animals likely crossed between B.C. and Alberta regularly, since they were in Calgary they were considered outside bears and ineligible to bring back to B.C.
"We would've loved to take them because it's two females and a male and that would've made a difference to the population numbers," said Langen.
The Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources sent an email statement confirming the bears couldn’t come back because not only is there a fear they could bring new parasites or infectious disease, but there’s limited space at the one B.C. facility where orphaned cubs are rehabbed – as well as concerns the bears could escape the Smithers facility and mate with bears that don’t share the same genetics and background.
“We have a poor appreciation of bear health in B.C. but are aware of some unique health parameters that we do not want to endanger,” wrote a spokesperson.
Langen says considering the cubs had been at the Calgary Zoo for months as officials couldn’t agree on who should take the cubs, it’s very likely they are already too habituated to humans and that’s it’s now “most likely too late” for them to be rehabilitated and live a life in the wild.
The situation has frustrated the Vancouver Humane Society, which points out the bears’ fate is a sad one.
"We think it's very unfortunate these bears have ended up in captivity and facing a lifetime behind fences and bars when we think there was an opportunity at an early stage to have these bears rehabilitated and possibly returned to the wild," said Peter Fricker, a spokesperson for the society.
While the Greater Vancouver Zoo has faced years of criticism over safety issues and how it cares for its animals, particularly large one which have died in its care, the facility insists its capable of supporting the three rapidly-growing grizzly cubs.
“We have the habitat, we have the experts and we're so proud to be part of this," insisted Lussier. “We will offer their forever home and the best life for those guys."
While the siblings will live that life together, it now seems all but certain it’ll be far from the mountain passes they used to roam with their mother.