Train collision kills mother grizzly and three cubs

Four grizzlies killed by train

A grizzly bear and her three cubs have been struck and killed by a train east of Elko, B.C.

A wildlife scientist tells CTV News it should serve as a wake-up call and another sad reminder of how fragile the powerful creatures' population is in that area.

Clayton Lamb, at the University of British Columbia, tagged the female bear in September 2019 and had been tracking her ever since.

"We called this bear EVGF97 (Elk Valley Grizzly Female No. 97). In 2019 she was approximately 11 years old, weighed 153 kilograms, and did not have cubs with her," he told CTV about the tagging two years ago.

When researchers checked on her in 2020, The female didn't have cubs, but she was spotted with a male at the time. The three cubs are believed to have been born this spring. It’s rare for grizzly bears to have so many offspring.

Lamb said he received a mortality signal from the mama bear’s collar in early October and found the bodies of the three cubs below a rail bridge in the Elk Valley. The dead mother was discovered a few hundred metres down the tracks. CP Rail had reported the collision to authorities.

"Although not entirely uncommon, this was the first observation of a female with three offspring in over 100 animal years of monitoring the reproduction of ~30 female bears in the Elk Valley," Lamb told CTV.

"She was in very good body condition, with 36 per cent body fat. Unlike us, bears are actually striving to be as fat as possible, so she was winning at that. She was one of the heaviest and fattest females in our study."

Lamb's research suggests grizzly populations in areas of human activity often have more animals die each year than are born. This single incident saw the loss of a mature female along with two female cubs and one male cub, further reducing the breeding stock.

Collisions with trains and vehicles account for about a third of grizzly bear deaths.

While some solutions like fencing along highways, has helped, reducing railway collision is trickier. "Innovative solutions exist, such as early warning systems that can alert animals to an oncoming train and help them get out of the way faster," explains Lamb.

He hopes the deaths spark a further desire to find solutions "to help make this landscape work better for people and wildlife alike."

- with files from CTV News Calgary

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