A team of local wildlife watching guides fastened a happy ending onto a heartbreaking situation over the weekend by rescuing a tiny baby black bear that was stubbornly refusing to leave its dead mother’s side.
John Forde and Jennifer Steven co-own The Whale Centre in Tofino and, when the husband and wife team received a report of a bear cub hanging around a deceased adult bear in Ross Pass on Friday, they immediately headed out to investigate, discovering the tragic scene around 5 p.m.
“We got up there and the little cub was hanging around the mom and was a little too skittish and spooked and went up to the top of one of the trees,” Forde told the Westerly News.
He said he and Steven returned for another rescue effort early Saturday morning.
“The little cub was laying on its mother. Jen dropped me on the rocks a little ways away and I snuck around and slowly went up and, this time, she didn’t run away. She actually went back and used [her] mom as protection and I was able to capture her and carry her back down and onto the boat,” he said.
“It was a tiny little cub. Probably three to four months old, so really small, but still big claws and teeth and all the rest of that…It sort of growled and complained at first and then clawed onto me and just held on and I was able to get a hold of it and get her back. It was pretty cool.”
He said he knew if he could not grab the cub, it would not survive the wild on its own.
“All I wanted to do was be super calm and not spook it, so that I had the chance to capture it because I knew that, if I couldn’t get a hold of this bear, if it kept eluding me, it was going die up there. It would have no other hope to survive,” he said. “That’s all I was thinking. I wasn’t really concerned about anything else. I had thick gloves and long sleeve jacket on so I wasn’t too concerned…but when it started crawling up onto my back, I was just going, ‘Oh man, don’t bite me now.”
In a blog posted to The Whale Centre’s website, Steven recalled the young bear’s distress.
“It was screaming. My heart was breaking listening to its screams but I knew this was its only chance to survive,” she wrote.
The bear was brought back to Tofino and handed over to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service in Port Alberni, which then took it to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre in Errington where it will be raised with the intent of releasing it back into the wild in about two years, according to Forde.
He said it was the first time he had ever handled a bear and he was happy to help give this one a chance at survival.
“It just makes your heart glow. It makes you feel like you’re doing something good in this world especially with all the bad things out there,” he said. “It’s just part of my nature to do that. I’ve always felt close to animals and wildlife. A poor helpless little thing like that; I’m not one to just sit back and not help. That’s not me.”
He added the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre plans to release the bear back to where it was rescued from and he encourages locals to look into the organization and consider donating.
“They’re making a difference,” he said. “Everybody moves out here because they enjoy the wildness and the wilderness and these guys are doing a good thing to help animals out.”
Trevor Chester, an Animal Care Technician with North Island Recovery Centre, told the Westerly News Monday morning that the bear is doing well, but is malnourished.
“It was definitely underweight when it came in. We’re not sure how long it’s mom had passed away, but its definitely underweight so it’s been a lone for some time at least. So that’s the situation we have right now,” he said adding the small animal is being fed a special milk-formula designed for bear cubs.
“The care is a little bit more hands-on, at least at first. But, we want to get them away from us as soon as possible so that they don’t become habituated…We want to get them on their own as soon as possible so that we don’t have to be physically feeding them and so they don’t think that we’re ‘mom.’ The sooner we can get them eating on their own, the better. That’s the goal. Then we can lead them on their own and they can start learning to be a bear.”
He said the centre hopes to release the bear back into the wild in about a year-and-a-half.
“That’s about how long they would stay with mom until they’re on their own in the wild. So that’s generally how long they stay here until they’re old enough to be able to fend for themselves,” he said.