In Gail Martin’s 30 years of rehabilitating wildlife she has never seen anything like this season when it comes to the number of injured or orphaned bear cubs she has taken in.
“We are at capacity for bears,” said Martin, founder and executive director of Langley-based Critter Care Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, located in Campbell Valley Park.
“We had 31 bears, but we lost six due to severe starvation. They were eating plastic and metal before they got to us. It’s just so sad,” she said.
Critter Care is used to taking in around a dozen bear cubs each year and has enough space to accommodate that number.
But now they have cubs waiting while volunteers scramble to get another enclosure ready to house the animals.
The bears are coming from all over B.C. — from Merritt and Squamish to Maple Ridge. They are a bit older than the cubs that Critter Care usually takes in, and they are severely malnourished. Another cub arrived from Whistler on Tuesday.
“This truly was one of the worst food years for bears, with berries coming out too early and the forest fires, it was a tragic combination,” Martin said.
“It’s also a result of hunting and poaching. The mother bears are being killed, leaving the cubs to fend for themselves.”
Habitat encroachment and bears being hit by vehicles are adding to the challenge in B.C., she said.
It’s a problem that many say the provincial government needs to address. Recently, however, Premier Christy Clark said she would not review the legality of trophy hunting in B.C., stating it is a economic driver.
The Conservation Officer Service has seen cuts in recent years, with officers having to cover wide swaths of territory, from Hope to Whistler.
“Conservation officers are doing a good job. They get a bad rap but as busy as they are, they are still finding time to bring us bears in need,” Martin said.
“Like us in animal rehabilitation, their job is to deal with more than just bears, but all wildlife.”
Martin said she is willing to make room for more bears, because she knows there is a need. But to do so, she would need local fencing companies to pay for the enclosure.
“It’s around $100,000 for the fencing.
Fencing companies could come in and get it set up fast. That would be amazing,” she said.
She said come spring time, the cubs will be big and then “they don’t like each other.” For that reason, she can’t put 10 animals in one enclosure.
Once they’re released back into the wild, they have to have room to roam and food to eat. It’s a constant worry, she said.
The cost to feed the bears and all the other animals in care is rising. Bears eat berries, vegetables, salmon and other perishables.
Critter Care’s Christmas store opens Dec. 7 until Dec. 19, seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The public is invited to shop or make a donation to help cover the bears’ expenses.
Items for sale include bear paw jogging pants, PJs, bear slippers, coasters, Critter Care birthday cards, calendars, socks and more.
Critter Care is located at 481-216 St. No viewing of the animals will be offered.