Sometimes, life gives you a second chance.
That’s the case for Valentine, an orphaned grizzly cub who was firmly knocking on death’s door six months ago, alone and weighing just 20 pounds with winter rapidly approaching.
“One more day and that would have been it,” recalled Conservation Officer Alex Desjardins, who responded to the original call regarding Valentine late last year.
The call came from Ross Prather, a Kicking Horse Trail resident and the manager of the Grizzly Bear Refuge at the resort. Prather had discovered Valentine in his backyard, orphaned, weak and ill prepared for the winter that was to come.
Valentine’s story wouldn’t have had a happy ending if not for the Northern Lights Wildlife Society, an animal rehabilitation centre located in Smithers. There was a time when a bear like Valentine would have been a prime candidate to be euthanized.
Instead, Desjardins was able to take care of the bear for a few days before Peter and Angelika Langen, the society’s founders, were able to pick him up.
The road to the wild was a long one, and initially Valentine wasn’t responding to treatment the way the Langens would have liked.
“We were quite sure that there was some underlying infection or something….we (later) found out that he had a kidney infection and he also had porcupine quills into him. We took those out and we treated the kidney infection with antibiotics and within five days it was a total turnaround. He got rambunctious, and eating and playful…the recovery of bears is just amazing compared to other animals,” Angelika said.
His recovery accelerated from there through a heavy dose of oatmeal, milk and fruit, before the Langens eventually introduced meat into his diet.
As of Friday morning, Valentine’s rehabilitation was officially complete, having bulked up to nearly 200 pounds, a weight that pleased the organization’s founders.
Just after 10 a.m., the yearling was released in a remote area north of Golden. His first steps outside of the transportation crate were cautious, which Angelika and Peter were happy about, as it demonstrated that he was going to be careful as he reentered the wilderness. After lingering near the Langens’ truck for a moment or two, Valentine took off into the bush and instantly began foraging for food. Another excellent sign.
“Now it’s joy. After all these years we know that’s where they want to be,” Angelika said.
“The first one was hard because you don’t know,” she added. “You don’t know how they’re going to do…it’s 18 grizzlies (altogether) that we’ve (released) and the post-release information is really good. You can do it with a lot more confidence.”
The first few weeks in the wild will be crucial for Valentine’s long-term survival, Angelika explains, and it is critically important that he has little to no human interaction during that time, which is why an extremely remote location was chosen for his release.
“It will also be a time where he is adjusting with his food and he would be most likely to go ‘oh, people, maybe I can get some food there’ because the memory is still there,” Angelika said.
“We always try to release at a time where there’s lots of berries coming in the region and so on…it shows in the research that if you can put them in areas where they have no human contact for the first month, then the rehab goes the best.”
And while there are no guarantees – as Desjardins puts it “nature is nature” – rehabilitation has proven to work in the past in order to give grizzly bears another chance. A chance that, for Valentine, seemed like a pipe dream when he was rescued from the wild late last year.