'It's heartbreaking:' Malnourished, tiny bear cub found with dead mother near Tofino
TOFINO, B.C. - John Forde stood silently near the body of a dead female black bear as two little eyes stared back at him from a nearby bush.
The bear cub was about the size of a Jack Russell terrier, extremely underweight and very scared.
Forde, who co-owns the Whale Centre in Tofino with his wife Jennifer Steven, had been told the day before about a cub hiding around the body of its dead mother in Ross Pass.
The couple jumped into their boat on May 25, along with a woman from the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society, for the 45-minute journey to the area.
First, they used binoculars to spot the dead adult bear and saw a bit of movement in its fur. The cub was lying on its mother.
“It's heartbreaking because the only chance of survival for these little bears in the wild is the protection of its mother, and I knew that without us stepping in, that this bear wasn't going to survive,” Forde said Thursday in an interview.
After anchoring the boat, they went in for a closer look. The cub got spooked and ran into a bush before climbing high up a tree.
Forde checked the adult bear but there was no obvious cause of death. It was small but healthy and there were no signs of external trauma, Forde said.
As the sun started to go down, they decided to head back to Tofino. However, Forde and Steven knew they'd be back again for a second try.
Early the morning of May 26, they packed a dog kennel into their boat. This time, they moored the boat farther away and Forde walked very slowly and quietly to the area.
“The cub appeared to be sleeping on top of the mother and it looked actually like the cub had been suckling off of the dead mother. It was pretty rough,” he said.
The cub spotted Forde and took off into the bush, but now Forde had time to wait. He stood still until the cub eventually wandered out and snuggled back into the deceased bear's neck fur.
Using a jacket, Forde covered the cub and was finally able to grab it, haul it to the boat and put it in the kennel.
The couple contacted conservation officers and arranged to transport the cub to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre.
“It was in really rough shape, very malnourished and to the point where they figure if we hadn't had got it that day, it probably wouldn't have lasted another,” Forde said.
Tawny Molland, animal care supervisor at the centre, said the male cub is between eight to 12 weeks old. It will stay at the centre for around 18 months before it is released into the wild.
“Every day we are seeing signs of improvement,” she said.
The centre received about eight cubs last year, Molland said, but the new rescue is one of the smallest. The cub wasn't old enough to go on its own after its mother died, she said.
“He doesn't know any different right,” she said. “He just wants to be with his mom.”
The cub still doesn't have a name, but Forde has one in mind.
“He was found in Ross Pass, so I am hoping to name him Ross the bear,” he said with a laugh.