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Weekend outing quickly turns into bear cub rescue

Top: Two orphaned bear cubs — a brother and sister — were rescued by Stephanie McGregor and Colleen Bailey on the weekend (Wendy Chambers photo). Bottom: Colleen Bailey goes to get a frightened, orphaned bear cub out of a tree near Lemon Lake (S. Bechtel photo). - Wendy Chambers/S. Bechtel
Top: Two orphaned bear cubs — a brother and sister — were rescued by Stephanie McGregor and Colleen Bailey on the weekend (Wendy Chambers photo). Bottom: Colleen Bailey goes to get a frightened, orphaned bear cub out of a tree near Lemon Lake (S. Bechtel photo).
— image credit: Wendy Chambers/S. Bechtel

When a group of local hikers came across two young bear cubs up the Bull River Road their first instinct was to stay away, as anyone who lives in the Kootenays knows that a mother bear's instinct to protect her cubs can be extremely dangerous. However the mother did not appear.

Stephanie McGregor, her husband and some friends were on the road to Lemon Lake on Sunday, but when they turned back because of road conditions, they came across the two bear cubs.

"There were two teeny-tiny baby bears," McGregor said. "The smallest bears I've ever seen in my life so we pulled over and we just sat in our vehicles.

“I thought for sure the mama bear would be coming up right away. We sat there for awhile and she wasn’t coming. I was kind of getting more worried and more worried.”

Then, as they were waiting, a group of dirt bikers arrived at the site and asked if the bears were still there. They said they’d seen the cubs there the day before.

McGregor called the Conservation Officers (CO) office, but got the hotline.  The next she called her friend Colleen Bailey. “She’s an experienced animal rescuer — that’s kind of what she does.”

Bailey immediately contacted the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers, B.C.

The shelter did have room, but wanted them to be sure the bears were orphaned. The shelter has helped more than 200 black bears, as well as a number of Grizzly and Kermode bears.

Soon some tourists from Ohio, who’d come to take photos of hummingbirds, came upon the bears and set up their tripods to take photos.

“There was just no way that momma was around with these people hanging around,” McGregor said. “We called back to the shelter and she gave us word to capture them. She was in touch with the COs and all the proper authorities.”

COs later confirmed that the mother had died.

Bailey, a technical animal rescuer, is trained to how to work with fractious, or unruly, animals.

She said she approached it like any frightened animal that can cause damage.

“I put on heavy gloves and protected my arms with a heavy jacket,” Bailey said. “I walked up and they were weak enough that I could approach them and grab them.”

At the time, Bailey was working on behalf of the Northern Light Wildlife Sanctuary.

The first cub tried to go up a tree, but was so weak it ended up falling back. Bailey caught it and put it in a portable kennel. The second cub got even further up a tree, but Bailey got him by the rear end.

They drove back to Bailey’s house, where they weighed the bears — a brother and sister —  and got them some bear gruel to eat.

A veterinarian came down to take a look at the bears as well, who fed them, gave them a vitamin shot and assessed them. The bears were quite dehydrated, starving, but they were in good enough shape to be transported to Smithers. But a flight couldn’t be lined up, as the animal inspector wasn’t available over the weekend.

So instead, on Monday McGregor and Bailey drove the bears to Golden. There they met Wendy Chambers, a volunteer with the Northern Light Wildlife Society, who drove the bears to Jasper. From there, the owners of Northern Light took the bears, driving 10 hours each way to pick them up.

The Northern Light Wildlife Society is the only shelter in B.C. (other than one only for Vancouver island bears) that can take bears in. It’s a non-profit that gives injured/orphaned wildlife a second chance at survival.

Angelika and Peter Langen started the shelter in 1989 after emigrating from Germany. It became a society in 2001 and a registered charity in 2002.

McGregor said the bears will be rehabilitated then hopefully released back into the wild in a year or so.

“We couldn’t believe how everyone came together for these bears,” she said. “It’s so amazing.”

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