By Roger Dey
Blackfoot Valley Dispatch 

Three cubs rescued after female grizzly killed on Highway 200

 

Roger Dey

Three grizzly cubs huddle up together near the top of a tree Tuesday, June 5.

Wildlife officials captured three grizzly bear cubs east of Lincoln after a female grizzly was struck and killed on Highway 200 early Tuesday morning, June 5.

Jamie Jonkel, the Region 2 Wildlife Management Specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said a passing trucker called in the report of the dead grizzly and three live cubs early in the morning.

Pat Shanley, the wildlife biologist for the Lincoln Ranger District was the first person to respond to the call, at Jonkel's request.

I got the call really early from dispatch," Jonkel said. "We thought (Lincoln Game Warden Ezra Schwalm) was out of town, so we called Pat and he was down there ay 7 o'clock in the morning. He was the one who verified it was a female and that she had cubs and that she was a grizzly.

Gordon Becker, who lives just a few yards from the spot where the bear was killed, saw the cubs run across the road and helped locate them. After crossing the highway, the three cubs climbed a tree near the highway, where they stayed for more than 12 hours.


All three cubs were captured by June 7 using a live trap,that used the carcass of the dead mother bear to lure the cubs in.

Jonkel captured the first of the cubs Tuesday night.

"You never know when they're gonna come down out of the tree to get on mama's body but usually its right at dusk," he said. "It's a little magic time period. Sure enough, they are starting to get antsy and they talked to each other and they started to come down."

One of the cubs crawled into the trap, but he said the others started playing around with the door, which came down too low for them to enter. Although they were trying to get in, Jonkel had someone drive up behind him and get out of the car, which scared the cubs off.

"I saw them walking up the hill, so we had to wait another day," he said. "We caught the one and the next night we caught the other two."

Jonkel said the cubs were quite small, despite their fluffy coats. They weren't weighted on site, but he estimated they weighed 20 -25 pounds each.

"Their heads look so big and puffy, when I saw them up there (in the tree) ...they looked like big cubs, but when I crawled In there and grabbed the one, he was tiny."

Once the cubs were captured they were given water and fed apples before being taken to the Montana Wild wildlife rehabilitation center in Helena.

"They'll be ear tagged and looked all over to see how healthy they are," Jonkel said. They will also determine the sex of the cubs and weigh them.

Jonkel said the cub's mother was estimated to be about 17 years old, and is something of a mystery. They found she had been ear tagged at one point, but the tag was missing. They also found an "ancient" tattoo found on her lip that indicates she was a research bear captured and tagged as a sub-adult around 2003.

"I don't think she's one I handled, so I think she's one from over there on the Dearborn or Scapegoat," Jonkel said.

To his knowledge, she wasn't a problem bear, but he had heard recent reports of a female grizzly with three small cubs in the Upper Blackfoot.

"I had a call about two weeks back where someone saw a female with cubs of the year feeding on an elk carcass that had been road killed. I had other people who had hit tracks of a female with three brand new little cubs kinda upstream of Aspen Grove along the river," he said. "I think she was just a mama bear trying to cross the highway."

Jonkel said they found the carcasses of four elk that had been road killed over the winter in the area where the bear was killed.

"I think that's an important little corridor," he said. "I think she was trying to cross from that river bottom through that subdivision. Right there they can get up on top of that Keep Cool Hills Ridge system. I think just bad luck. She tried crossing and got hit."

Although Jonkel considered the female to be an old bear by grizzly standards, he said they can live into their 30s or older if injuries or bad teeth don't give them trouble.

Visitors to Montana Wild can watch the cubs on streaming video, Jonkel said.

"They don't let anyone go in. If they do rehab them and put them back in the wild, they don't want them being acclimated to humans."

He said the skull of the female will probably be donated to the Blackfoot Challenge for their educational programs.

Gordon Becker

The remains of the female girzzly lie along highway 200 before being being used to lure the cubs into the live trap

 

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