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Bear cub captured in Westlock Halloween night sent to Southern Alberta rehabilitation facility

There are several factors that contributed to the bear cub’s positive outcome, including the highly visible capture on Halloween night
Fish and Wildlife Sheriff Danika Wittenberg with the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Services holds a male black bear cub that was captured Halloween night in the Town of Westlock. The bear has been sent to a rehab center in southern Alberta and is expected to be released into the wild next spring.

WESTLOCK — A bear cub captured in the Town of Westlock Halloween night is now settled at a rehabilitation centre in southern Alberta after Fish and Wildlife officials met Nov. 1 to decide its fate.

The bear was tranquilized the evening of Oct. 31 and transported out of town via Fish and Wildlife officers, where it was later reassessed and a decision was made not to relocate the bear cub, as was originally planned.

“It’s on its way down to Calgary or Cochrane and it’s going to go to a rehab (centre) for the winter,” said Mike Ewald, provincial problem wildlife specialist with Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Services, in an interview Nov. 1. “There’s only one rehab centre that’s approved by the (provincial) government to rehab bears … unless something else further develops, as of right now we do have this one place permitted to rehab bears for cases just like this where bear cubs are in a town setting and where there’s a lot of public viewing.”

The bear cub, born earlier this spring was in poor condition noted Ewald, adding that if he was found 10 or 20 miles outside town limits and somewhere in the country, there is a good chance the bear would have been euthanized. However, there are several factors that contributed to the bear cub’s positive outcome, including the highly visible capture on Halloween night. 

“With all the people around that also influences and keeps other options on the table (and) because this one’s been in the public eye … as far as we know this bear is not food conditioned or habituated and it hasn’t been into garbage so that’s where it also fits into the conditions to be rehabbed as well.”

Many residents have raised concerns on social media over the handling of the bear, and in response, Ewald said the adults allowed to hold the bear and children who pet the bear cub Halloween night, before it was safety transported out of town, were safe and in no way harmed the tranquilized animal.

“The bear never got a reward from being handled. When they get into garbage they basically get a food reward and so that’s where they get habituated and food conditioned,” explained Ewald, noting there was no continual contact with the bear over any length of time which could have been problematic. 

Ewald said this year has been a good year with fewer sightings of orphaned bears and fewer reports of problem bears and adult bears killed.

“This year, as far as our Fish and Wildlife response to bear concerns, I would say it’s been below average across the province, for response to nuisance bears,” he said, noting there was a nuisance bear recently captured near the end of October in the northern part of Westlock County, in the hamlet of Fawcett.

“That was an adult bear where there was a dog injured and a dog missing and (it was) into quite a bit of garbage,” said Ewald, noting an increased risk due to a loss of fear of people. “(It was) coming right up on people’s decks with people there. That (Fawcett) bear was euthanized because he was habituated and food conditioned … and because of property damage and the fact that a pet was injured and a dog is missing, presumed that the bear got it.”  

The Westlock bear cub will spend the winter at the rehab centre in southern Alberta and is expected to be released into the wild next spring, when he is older and when there are good food sources available, said Ewald.  

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Kristine Jean

About the Author: Kristine Jean

Kristine Jean joined the Westlock News as a reporter in February 2022. She has worked as a multimedia journalist for several publications in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and enjoys covering community news, breaking news, sports and arts.
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