PORT HARDY — A pair of young black bear cubs orphaned when their mother was struck and killed by a car Friday near Port Hardy are being cared for at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre after leading Conservation Officers on a merry chase for more than eight hours.
The sow was struck and killed on Highway 19 about 15 kilometres south of Port Hardy in the early morning hours July 15.
Dave Janke of Port Hardy, en route to work in Port Alice, came upon the sow at 6 a.m. Spotting one or more bear cubs moving on her body, he called Port Hardy RCMP, who in turn notified Port McNeill-based Conservation Officer Tim Schumacher.
Schumacher, the only officer stationed north of Campbell River, arrived at the site and promptly called for assistance, which led to the eventual arrival of Gordon Gudbranson from Black Creek.
“The cubs were initially on the other side of the road, up two different trees,” Schumacher said, indicating the west side of the highway. “Eventually they came down and crossed the road, and went up a tree on this side.”
While waiting for Gudbranson’s arrival, Schumacher tried to stake out a spot beneath the cubs’ tree and snare them with a pole rope when they came down. But the cubs proved elusive on their infrequent forays to the ground.
Eventually, Gudbranson reached the scene and the two officers prepared an array of tools, including a pair of telescoping poles — one with a neck loop and the other sporting a syringe of tranquilzer — and a shotgun for firing tranquilizer darts.
“We’d rather not shoot them if we can avoid it,” Gudbranson said as he watched Schumacher prepare the pole-mounted syringe. “Especially with these little guys, it’s a lot less traumatic if we can get close enough to stick them.”
Although their mother’s body had been removed by an Emcon crew earlier, the cubs stuck close to the road. At one point, they were in separate trees calling to each other, and Gudbranson was amazed to watch one of the youngsters clamber across two trees well above ground to get closer to his sibling.
Finally, just after 2 p.m., Schumacher was able to stick one of the cubs as it backed down a tree and the tranquilizer took effect quickly.
The second cub remained nearly 10 metres up a nearby tree until tentatively backing down. Hiding in the deep shadows below, Schumacher slowly reached out with his pole and, when the cub was within three metres of the ground, managed to inject it in a rear leg.
The cub promptly raced back up the tree about six to seven metres above ground as Gudbranson joined Schumacher below the tree with a padded, handled blanket bag. As the drug took effect, the cub released its grip on the tree trunk and proceeded to free-fall directly into the blanket.
“Great catch!” Gudbranson called out. “It felt like being with the fire department and catching a victim.”
The men then examined the cubs, which are both males approximately five to six months old, and applied eyedrops and de-worming medicine before placing them in a drum for transport to the recovery centre in Errington.
The North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre staff will care for the cubs until they are old enough to be reintroduced into the wild.