A Boundary bruin was the unexpected recipient of a Christmas miracle last week when the cub was discovered in a chicken coop and the owner decided to exhaust all options to rescue it, rather than having it destroyed.
Midway resident Miranda Charles first heard about the orphaned bear cub when she was at church Sunday, Dec. 22.
Charles heard landowner Dale Tiffenbach talking about the cub in his chicken coop and how he didn’t know what to do with it. The conservation officer and RCMP were limited in their options and said the only thing they could do was destroy it. Charles took the initiative to help out Tiffenbach and started making calls that day.
“When they said the only option was to shoot it … I just didn’t take that as an option,” she said.
Charles, her husband and her father – both RCMP officers – went to see the bear cub.
Tiffenbach told Charles that the bear cub had been in the coop for about five days. He had been watching the 3-metre by 4.5-metre (10-by-15-feet) coop because he suspected an owl had been taking his chickens. When the cub showed up, it was weak and had a hard time walking. He started feeding the unharmed chickens and cub extra food, and separating the birds at night.
After calling around, Charles learned there was only one option for the cub – the Smithers-based Northern Lights Wildlife Society. The wildlife rescue is the only organization in British Columbia that takes animals from all over the province. In order to take the cub, they would need permission from the BC Conservation Officer Service and transportation would have to be arranged.
Charles was able to obtain permission from the Castlegar conservation office after assuring them that only the two RCMP officers would handle the cub.
When it was time to catch the bear, they found he still had some fight left in him.
“We found out later he was only 21 lbs, but he still put up a fight. He even bit Dad,” said Charles, adding that her father is fine and the bear didn’t break through the skin.
The cub was loaded into a dog kennel in the back of a pick-up truck and driven to Kamloops where the rescuers would meet with a transport service. He handled the trip quite nicely.
“My Dad drove to Kamloops and stopped to buy two plain hamburgers, because obviously, we don’t know what to feed bears,” she laughed. “He grabbed them and wolfed them down. He also gave him a dog dish of water and he drank it.”
The bear arrived at 9:30 p.m on Christmas Eve at the rescue, where he was named Tinsel due to his holiday arrival.
Angelika Langen, one of the rescue’s founders, said the cub was feeble and slept a lot. They weighed him and he was 9.5 kg (21 lbs) when he should be 25 to 34 kg (55 to 75 lbs). He is estimated to be around 11 months old because all cubs are born in late January to early February, said Langen.
Right now the rescue staff are keeping things low-key for the cub. He is isolated and getting porridge with fruit and vegetables for most of his meals. Langen says he must have been orphaned and that they have to be careful not to give him food that is too rich, as he stomach adjusts to eating regularly.
“He was probably on his own for two months or more,” she said.
Despite his small size and weakened condition, Langen expects him to have a full recovery.
While the other bears are hibernating, he will be eating and growing like a weed, she said. She added that bears often bounce back from starvation because they are hibernating creatures. Other species may be permanently damaged, but he will have plenty of opportunities to catch up.
He’s already showing signs of recovery and has bluff charged at his caregivers.
“We are the only place that is happy when a bear tries to attack us,” laughed Langen. For them it means that the bear is still full of life. They would be concerned if the bear was friendly or lethargic.
The rescue will give him about a week to rest and gain his strength. After that, they will sedate him, weigh him again and give him a more thorough examination. Right now, they can’t even be sure of his sex until he is sedated.
Northern Lights currently has 10 other bears that they are caring for until the spring. A number, which Langen says is low – last year they had 32. Many of them are hibernating but they have four other bears that aren’t sleeping this winter. Once Tinsel is strong enough, he will be able to socialize and play with them. Langen said this is critical in his progress and even the act of playing with other bears will help build his muscles so he is ready to be released in the spring.
All the bears, including Tinsel, will be released into the same habitat that they came from. That means that Tinsel will once again roam the Boundary, only as a stronger yearling.
“We always release them into their natural environment,” said Langen. “We don’t want to upset the natural balance.”
She added that most animals at their rescue are there because of human interference and they put in the effort to save them in order to restore the balance.
Tinsel will be released back into the Boundary in late June early July of 2014.
Northern Lights is a completely non-profit organization that is funded by donations and grants. Check out their website for more information.