Two orphan bear cubs travel from Haida Gwaii to Smithers

The sibling cubs will spend the winter at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter

Two orphan bear cubs recently made the long journey from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert to the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers.

After a bear cub was spotted alone in Skidegate last week, the conservation officer was called to help the bear. On Nov. 18, the cub was flown to Prince Rupert where he was picked up by volunteers and driven to Smithers. The transport truck made it through white-out conditions to get to Terrace, 15 minutes before the highway was temporarily closed due to avalanche concerns.

READ MORE: HIGHWAY 16 CLOSED ON SATURDAY DUE TO AVALANCHE CONTROL

Then a week later, the conservation officer on Haida Gwaii got another call — a second bear cub was spotted in the same area.

“They didn’t know about the second one,” said Angelika Langen, who runs the Northern Lights Wildlife Society shelter. “A cub was seen, but they could’ve seen both, they were just never seen together. After the one was caught and they sent it over, two days later the other one showed up. There was probably two the whole time, but nobody realized.”

The Northern Lights Wildlife Society takes care of any bears in need of rehabilitation in B.C. aside from those on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. The family-run shelter and their efforts are documented by Wild Bear Rescue, a TV show aired on Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet.

With volunteers all over the province, Langen posted a call out on Facebook, asking if any of their volunteers based in Prince Rupert were planning on going to Smithers soon.

“Social media has really allowed places like NLWS to have access to many global animal advocates,” Chantal Cornwall, one of the volunteers who helped with the first cub, wrote in an email. She first heard of the shelter and their rehabilitation initiatives in 2002.

Carrie Breisch responded to help the second bear cub, saying she was driving to Prince George that very day. Breisch has been donating to the wildlife shelter for five years, but this was her first time volunteering directly. She’s from Terrace, but said adding an extra two hours to her trip was no problem.

“It needed to be done, and there was no one that could bring it down,” Breisch said. “I had nothing on my plate that couldn’t be pushed aside for a few hours … Every small thing we can do to help Angelika and the wildlife shelter, every bit counts for them.”

When she picked up the bear, it was already asleep in a kennel, so Breisch placed her in the back of her truck and hit the road.

“It’s pretty neat to hear the way she sleeps and snores. You’re not sure what to expect with a wild animal inside of your truck like that. But it would be no different than having my dog back there I guess,” Breisch said.

“When he woke up he was so scared and bewildered, but just so innocent at the same time. It’s pretty amazing to be that close to something so wild.”

“We were lucky,” Langen said. “She said she’d be happy to bring the bear along, so we didn’t have to drive out. We were quite grateful.”

READ MORE: RICE REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO MORE CONSERVATION OFFICERS

The male and female cubs were reunited on Nov. 23, and while they’re hungry, Langen said they are both in good condition. The female is about 50 pounds underweight, but Langen said she’s not concerned as both cubs will be fed consistently over winter instead of hibernating.

“They will keep growing so that by the springtime they will be approximately the same size as healthy cubs are in hibernation,” she said. “Then they will be released back into the wild into their home territory. Not on Skidegate, but somewhere on Haida Gwaii where it’s suitable for them to be released.”

The first cub, who has been at the shelter for almost a week now, is heavier.

“He’s settled in really well, he’s eating up a storm and really liking that he’s getting breakfast and dinner served every day — he doesn’t have to go look for it.”

Elders in Haida Gwaii have named the two cubs, who have garnered a lot of attention on the “Northern Lights Wildlife Society” Facebook page. The male is called Gwaay Taan for “island bear”, and the female is Taan Sqwaana for “other bear”, since she was the second to be caught.

The Northern Lights Wildlife Society currently has 34 bear cubs that they’ll care for this winter, including the two from Haida Gwaii.

“We’ve had six cubs now in the last two days. It’s been slightly busy,” Langen said with a laugh.

“This is usually a busy time of the year, when the animals show up in the snow, when there’s no food anymore. They really show up because of their dark fur against the white snow and there’s not so much green grass anymore. The orphans become really visible.”

Donations can be made to the society, and they often post requests for food and equipment, such as dog kennels to be used as mini bear dens, on their Facebook page.

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