Some rare four-legged visitors could be making their way to the north end of Vancouver Island.
Two grizzly bears have been “island hopping” from the mainland and were last sighted on Pearse Island, near Malcolm Island and Telegraph Cove, said Port McNeill-based conservation officer Jon Paquin.
The conservation office has been monitoring these bears for the past few weeks and says it is important to minimize any risk of human contact.
“The bears are believed to be dispersing sub-adults, and it is critical that the public leave them alone,” Paquin said.
People trying to get close, or closer, to the bears for photos or better viewing can contribute to habituation, which may lead to their destruction.
In order to avoid a tragic ending, Paquin is asking people to keep well away from the grizzlies and call in any sightings to the RAPP line as soon as possible to 1-877-952-7277 or report sightings online.
The COS is hopeful that if the bears are left alone, they will return to a more remote area.
This is not the first time grizzly bears have come over to Vancouver Island. In fact, it may be part of an increasing trend.
“Our bear monitoring research on the central coast has revealed that grizzlies are colonizing many inner islands which were never before occupied, and are doing so with increased frequency over the last decade. We do not know why but it has coincided with salmon declines,” said Chris Darimont, science director for Raincoast Conservation and the Hakai-Raincoast professor at the University of Victoria.
“We do not expect colonization on Vancouver Island, because human density is too high, especially along the eastern edge of the island where bears arrive and most humans live. People tend to panic and the poor bears do not last very long before they are killed,” said Darimont.
“We have had documented sightings in the past,” Paquin confirmed.
The most recent was last summer, when a grizzly made its way to the Woss area where it was destroyed by conservation officers.
Two years earlier, in June of 2013, an adult male grizzly bear broke into a Marine Harvest hatchery in Beaver Cove, at Telegraph Cove, and killed a Rottweiler at the site.
At that time, Steve Petrovcic, a North Island Zone conservation officer based in Black Creek, told the Gazette the grizzly was trapped and destroyed after it was determined it was not a candidate for relocation, because it had exhibited desensitized behaviour.
The first grizzly/human conflict on Vancouver Island the conservation office is aware of, said Petrovcic, was more than 20 years ago, when one tried to get into a barn where there were a number of calves. It was destroyed by the farmer.
In 2005, a grizzly in a First Nations community was destroyed after it showed desensitized behaviour. Then, in mid-May 2006, another sub-adult male grizzly was climbing over a fence into a residential back yard in Sayward where grandchildren were playing. An individual grabbed a firearm and shot the animal.
In addition to its prevalent black bear population, Vancouver Island was populated by pre-historic short-faced bears during the Ice Age. These massive creatures were larger than grizzlies and became extinct about 11,000 years ago.
he largest short-faced bear on record weighed about 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms). There are remains of these animals in Pellucidar Cave on the North Island.
— Kathy O’Reilly-Taylor, North Island Gazette