The biggest, baddest grizzly in Banff, No. 122, also known as ‘The Boss’, was spotted Wednesday morning wandering the railway tracks near Castle Junction, the first confirmed sighting of a bear in the mountain national parks so far this year.
No. 122 was first seen by a member of the public, who called in the sighting to Parks Canada.
“He’s just in the Castle Junction area, and is feeding on grain along the railway tracks there,” said Steve Michel, human-wildlife conflict specialist with Banff National Park, stating Parks staff verified the sighting after receiving the report.
Mid-March is the time when large male grizzlies come out of their winter hibernation and begin to be active on the landscape in search of their first meals in months.
Believed to be approximately 16 years old, No. 122 is considered to be one of the largest, most dominant grizzlies on the landscape.
Sporting a thick coat of fur grown over the winter, Michel said No. 122’s weight is estimated to be between 400 and 500 pounds currently.
He was last collared from 2012 to 2013, and wildlife officials found that his range covered more than 2,500 square kilometres in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay parks, mostly along highways and railways. Despite being hit by a train many years ago, he continues to use habitats heavily developed by humans to exploit food resources there.
“Because the Bow Valley is a very busy place and there are a lot of humans that occupy this landscape, he’s well-adjusted to humans and human facilities, and he seems to be relatively indifferent to our presence,” said Michel.
Michel added that snow on the ground will likely cause No. 122 to stay close to railway tracks in order to find food sources.
“We expect to see that he will continue with that behaviour for the next few weeks, and then as additional foraging opportunities become available, such as the first green grass starts to emerge, and dandelions and digging roots, any of these vegetation options he will take advantage of,” said Michel. “He certainly will take advantage of any opportunity he can to find carcasses on the landscape, animals that haven’t survived the harsh winter.”
Starting in May No. 122 is expected to roam the landscape in search of females as we get into the spring breeding season, which will dictate most of movements through May and June.
“Because of his size, he is certainly one of the more dominant grizzly bears that we have in the Bow Valley, and he certainly travels through the landscape with a significant amount of confidence,” said Michel.
Since ‘The Boss’ is not currently radio-collared, it is unknown when he first emerged from his den this season.
He has fathered a number of other high-profile bears in the area, based on a limited DNA analysis of five cubs from two different females. That study revealed he was the father of all those five offspring, and it is possible he may have sired many others, says Michel.
He bred with No. 72, a well-known female from the Lake Louise area, which resulted in two offspring, No. 142 and No. 143.
He also sired three cubs with female grizzly No. 64, a high-profile bear from the Banff area. The litter of that coupling resulted in bears No. 144, 148 and 160.
Grizzly No. 144 was the male who was destroyed by Alberta fish and wildlife officers in 2015 for killing sheep and llamas on a farm near Sundre, and No. 148, a female, has been seen on numerous occasions touring between Canmore and Banff. Last summer, a section of the Legacy Trail outside the Banff east gates closed due to No. 148 travelling close to the bike path.
Over the weekend, fresh grizzly tracks were seen on Kananaskis Country Golf Course, indicating bears were starting to wake up in the region.
John Paczkowski, ecologist with Alberta Environment and Parks, says they do not yet have GPS collar data showing that bears are active.
Parks Canada officials in Waterton and Jasper national parks stated that as of Wednesday they have not received reports of any bears on the landscape.
Sows and cubs usually come out of their dens in middle to late May, depending on the weather, because mothers are still nursing their young and spring is a difficult season to find food.
“Typically, it’s the adult males who come out first, and then the females with cubs are last, so it would be over the next month or even more we’ll see them come out depending on the sex and the reproductive status,” said Paczkowski.
With the arrival of warmer weather, Michel says people need start being aware of the fact that bears are waking up.
“People should now be thinking about bears, and they should be thinking about bears around their homes and campsites with respect to managing attractants … garbage, recycling, bird feeders, barbecues, pet food — all that stuff needs to be really secure,” he said. “When people are out enjoying the landscape, whether it’s hiking or snowshoeing or skiing, they need to be thinking about travelling in a group, being bear aware, carrying bear spray with them and making sure their dogs are kept on a leash.”