People will be able to get even more up close and personal with sleeping bears on Grouse Mountain from the safety of their homes, thanks to a new, high-resolution bear cam about to be installed.
The Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife is setting up the digital, infrared camera inside the den of resident grizzlies Grinder and Coola, so viewers can learn about hibernation activity online in vivid detail.
“It gives people the ability to watch something that you’d never have the opportunity to see in the wild,” said Grouse Mountain wildlife manager Devin Manky.
They aim to provide a clearer view of the bears’ natural behaviour, which tends to change when people are around.
When the bears were first brought to the sanctuary back in 2001, an old analog system was a groundbreaking, educational tool.
The old camera, a quarter-sized eye in the corner of the den, will remain as a back-up system once the new digital system is fully installed within a couple of weeks.
Past camera footage has revealed that grizzly bears do not go into full hibernation, as previously thought.
The 900-pound bears move around in their dens during winter in a sleep-walking kind of way to keep their muscles working.
Hibernation periods vary depending on climate, but Grouse Mountain records show that Grinder and Coola can be in their den for up to five months.
Grizzly bears begin to eat large amounts of high-protein food starting around late September to bulk up for cold winter weather.
Last year, the bears went into their den on Nov. 20, but warmer temperatures are delaying the process this year.
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The delay in hibernation is giving Grouse Mountain staff some more time to get the new camera in and run some system tests over the last week of November.
They are also putting in a protective plate before the bears head inside, as video footage has shown that Grinder and Coola tend to paw at den walls while sleep-walking around.
For now, Grouse Mountain wildlife rangers are monitoring the bears as their movement slows down.
Wildlife ranger Kevin Langford said the camera lets people see what grizzly bears are really like, in contrast to the fierce images often shown in movies.
“People go away with an appreciation of these animals and a different view,” said Langford.
Bear safe haven
Like the camera system, the 2.2-hectare refuge for grizzly bears was innovative back in 2001.
Young bears were almost always euthanized before the Grouse Mountain sanctuary was created, as they would starve or be eaten by predators without their mothers.
Grinder was a 10-pound cub when he was found alone in the spring of 2001 and rescued by forestry workers.
“They were able to wrap him in their coat, he was so weak, and brought him into a vet’s office and in the first day, his weight had doubled,” said Manky.
Coola got his name from the British Columbia coastal town of Bella Coola, where his mother was hit by a truck.
Grouse Mountain took in the two cubs at the refuge in September of 2001, just in time for their first hibernation.
Without their mothers, Grinder and Coola needed some help from wildlife rangers in setting up their den.
“They learned by watching us and, in the next couple of years, they started to build their own beds based on that experience,” said Manky.
The camera footage aided the rangers in discovering bear-hibernation needs based on their movements within the den.
Online access to the footage, along with ranger blogs, has helped get people interested in learning about bear behaviour.
Hilary Kilgour, manager of sustainability, education, and adventure at Grouse Mountain, said the technology has been key in getting students involved in wildlife programs.
“Our education program ultimately aims to get people learning about, not only what our wildlife are doing, but also our ecosystem,” said Kilgour.
Since the programs started in 2001, over 200,000 young people have visited the refuge to learn about the grizzly bears.
Argyle Secondary Grade 11 student Matthew Dunn was volunteering at the grizzly bear habitat through his high school co-op program.
The experience has inspired Dunn to go into wildlife management after graduating.
“I love it up here. Dealing with animals, it’s amazing to see the grizzly bears up close like this,” said Dunn.
Dunn will keep working until winter break, when the bears will most likely be in their den, on-camera.
In addition to online access, bear camera footage will be visible on mountain chalet televisions.
The bear video has been such a hit with the public that the refuge plans to set up cameras outside the den in the spring, to capture the moment when Grinder and Coola emerge.