A black bear was spotted in Red Deer, which an environmental educator and naturalist calls “an extremely rare” sighting.
On Thursday, Kerry Wood Nature Centre announced Wishart Trail in Gaetz Lake Sanctuary was closed until further notice after someone saw a bear in the area.
The first report of a bear in the area came earlier in the week, but that sighting couldn’t be confirmed, explained Todd Nivens, Waskasoo Environmental Education Society executive director.
“I was waiting to see video because people sort of think they see certain things all of the time. We get wildlife sightings reported to us and lots of times it’s something like a big dog or a garbage bag,” Nivens said.
Then on Thursday morning, Nivens ran into someone in the Kerry Wood Nature Centre parking lot who took photo of a black bear napping on the side of the trail. Nivens said there had also been recent rumours of a black bear being seen near Maskepatoon Park and Heritage Ranch.
“This bear is clearly following the river bank and moving his way downstream. He probably came out of the west country somewhere and is just following the water source,” he said.
Nivens said the last bear he personally saw in Central Alberta was at Canyon Ski Resort 15 years ago. But given Red Deer is a naturalized urban environment with an “in-tact vegetated corridor along the river,” it probably isn’t too rare for rarely reported animals to be in the area.
“I am of the mind that there are probably animals around us that are never seen or never get reported. The rare part of this situation is the fact that somebody has seen one and there has been a confirmation,” he said.
“There are plenty of things to eat in this area. Bears are under habitat-encroachment pressures in lots of places, so they’re going to move to where there are fewer pressures.”
In a Facebook post, Kerry Wood Nature Centre asked residents to avoid the area. If the centre captures photos or videos of the bear with trail cameras, they will be posted on social media.
“Stay away from it. Don’t approach it. Don’t try to get close. Don’t try to get that perfect picture. Certainly don’t try to feed it,” said Nivens.
“I would give that advice with any wild animal. But the thing about bears is they’re unpredictable. It could be napping peacefully at the trailside, but then it could get up, take an interest in you, and start sniffing and coming towards you.”
If a bear does take an interest in you, Nivens said to make yourself big and make a bunch of noise.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife has been notified of the sighting.
The City of Red Deer stated “the public is reminded not to approach wildlife and to stay clear of that area until the trail is open. Alberta Fish and Wildlife have been notified and staff from the Kerry Wood Nature Centre are monitoring the situation.”