I drove out to Banff last Friday in the hopes of seeing some wildlife. Almost immediately I knew it was going to be a good day for wildlife spotting. Within a few hours I had spotted 12 mountain goats and seven different grizzlies. It was capped off by seeing and photographing the very shy grizzly mom known as bear 130. I had seen her a few times this year and I couldn’t believe how healthy and big her cubs had gotten. Bear 130 was given that name this spring when she was anesthetized to place a GPS collar on her as part of the CP rail and Parks Canada initiative to study grizzly bear mortalities in Banff National Park. Train strikes are the leading cause of death to grizzly bears in the park and every year a few are lost.  Up until this weekend, for this year there had not been any known grizzly bear deaths associated with the trains. However, moose, deer, black bears and just last weekend a wolf pup had all been killed by the train, so it seemed like it was only a matter of time before a grizzly would meet the same fate.

Unfortunately, Friday night around 8:45pm was that time. Less than a two hours after taking this photo, these two cubs were hit by a train and instantly killed. Initially it wasn’t know if bear 130 had survived as she wasn’t seen for at least a day afterwards. However, on Sunday morning I was relieved to spot her walking along the tracks and quickly reported the sighting to Parks Canada staff who were thrilled to hear she was alive and well.  That morning, she did not stop to feed on grain spilled between the tracks. Instead, she walked back and forth sniffing the rails, likely picking up the lingering scent of her now deceased cubs. She stayed in the area for days on end, and while we can’t know for sure why, I don’t think it is a stretch to assume it was likely because she was searching for her cubs. While the loss of two cubs is horrible, the loss of a reproductively active female would have been devastating, especially seeing as bear 130 is such a good mother that does an excellent job of staying away from high human use areas until people are not present. A testament to her skills were that both cubs were in excellent condition, and seemed to be thriving until they made a mistake.

It’s hard to know why they didn’t get off the tracks when the train approached. At night, the high powered lights of the train can be blinding. That is all they would have seen. They would not have recognized that it was a train and may have actually charged at it in self defense.  Hopefully, with the data obtained from her collar, CP and Parks Canada can formulate solutions to this ongoing problem that has plagued all the wildlife in the Bow Valley. Otherwise, it will only be a matter days before the next body is collected. The only question will be, which species will be next…