Earlier this week, I returned from an unforgettable adventure near Bella Coola in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, home to four orphaned grizzly cubs: Arthur, Raven, Isa, and Cedar. Now 20 months old, these young bears were rescued at 9 months old in the fall of 2020 and returned to the wild this past spring.
I was accompanying world-renowned bear biologist and independent research scientist Dr. Lana Ciarniello to check on the cubs and assess their habitat use. Each day we flew from Bella Coola by helicopter through a spectacular landscape of coastal fjords, towering peaks, and lush valleys. Here, rainforest mists pass over ancient glaciers, waterfalls descend granite cliffs dotted with mountain goats, and salmon-bearing streams flow through nutrient-rich estuaries out to the Pacific Ocean. Not only is this a breathtakingly beautiful place, it’s also an area of highly productive habitat - a great place to be a grizzly bear. This new home for Arthur, Raven, Isa, and Cedar, was carefully selected with help from the Nuxalk Nation
This recent trip provided an opportunity to follow their journey and have a scientific look at their progress as they settle into their wild home. Dr. Ciarniello collected critical data needed to monitor their survival and success, and observations from the field will help inform best practices for grizzly bear rewilding. We were joined by Kim Gruijs from the Northern Lights Wildlife Society (NLWS) who is apprenticing to become the grizzly bear caretaker. Her observations and experience will help enhance diet and enrichment for the cubs while she cares for them at the shelter in Smithers BC.
NLWS is the only wildlife shelter in North America permitted to rescue, care for, and release orphaned grizzly bears. If a grizzly cub is orphaned in Alberta or Montana, for example, there are currently no second chances for them to live their lives out in the wild. But the Grizzly Bear Foundation is helping change this narrative, one bear at a time. Not only will the results of this research in BC inform the fate and welfare of individual bears, but it could also contribute to the conservation of threatened and recovering grizzly bear populations across North America, with global implications. But first, we need the science.
With the help of GPS collars and wildlife telemetry equipment, Dr. Ciarniello was able to observe all four bears. We are excited to report that Arthur, Raven, Isa, and Cedar are doing well. They all appear to be in good condition and we found encouraging signs that they are finding quality foods to eat, as well as demonstrating wild bear behaviours like scent marking on rub trees. In one area frequented by the triplets (Arthur, Raven, and Isa), we found a large bear bed with multiple depressions, suggesting they have been finding safe and sheltered places to sleep together.
Cedar has been primarily on her own, spending most of her time in sub-alpine and alpine habitats where there are lots of blueberries and huckleberries to eat. Where Dr. Ciarniello located her, she was on a steep slope in a subalpine bowl at over 1500 metres in elevation!
Arthur, Raven, and Isa have been sticking together and frequenting highly productive, low-elevation sites with an abundance of Pacific crab apple trees and other critical bear foods like Northern Rice Root. They also spent some time at higher elevations in August and September where Dr. Ciarniello found an abundance of blueberry and huckleberry-filled bear scats. On the open, subalpine slopes, Valerian was another important bear food identified and found fed upon.
In the past few weeks Isa has been off on her own while Arthur and Raven continue to be seemingly inseparable, perhaps finding comfort and security in each other’s company. I was thrilled to observe Arthur and Raven feeding on salmon - scavenging for dead fish at the river mouth, picking carcasses out of log jams, and practicing their fishing skills.
As a bear-viewing guide, I have spent hundreds of hours in the field watching wild bears. To see these orphaned cubs free to roam - running, play-fighting, leaping into the river, exploring the estuary and searching for salmon - after all they have been through, I was filled with great joy.
This was a special chance to not only gain insight into the science of Project Rewild, but to appreciate firsthand why the Grizzly Bear Foundation became involved in this work. Thanks to Project Rewild, these cubs have been given a second chance at life in the wild. By developing a scientific understanding of how successful grizzly bear rewilding efforts are and how they can be improved, we gain the critical information needed to inform best practices and grizzly bear management policy for orphaned cubs across North America.
Written by Taylor Green
Outreach & Communications Coordinator, Grizzly Bear Foundation
Principal Technician, Project Rewild
About Project Rewild
A scientific study of orphaned grizzly cub rewilding efforts
In partnership with the BC provincial government and Northern Lights Wildlife Society, the Grizzly Bear Foundation is bringing science to the conversation. Project Rewild is an innovative and world-leading research program that monitors and examines orphaned grizzly cub rewilding efforts. Project Rewild will provide the science and best practices needed to enhance and expand rewilding efforts in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana and beyond.
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