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Into the wild in Alberta: Wildlife park welcomes new B.C. grizzly in need of a home

One of the newest residents at Alberta’s Discovery Wildlife Park should be well-rested for the season’s opening.
Billy the grizzly and some of the other wildlife at Alberta’s Discovery Wildlife Park.

One of the newest residents at Alberta’s Discovery Wildlife Park should be well-rested for the season’s opening.

Billy, an 11-year-old grizzly bear, enjoyed his first hibernation this past winter at the Innisfail, Alta. park, south of Red Deer. Billy started snoozing around mid-November and didn’t take his first bleary-eyed steps out of his shelter until early March.

Billy, a TV and movie star who’s appeared in numerous productions throughout his career, came to the park from the Mission, B.C,. area last summer. However, when his owner’s health began to fail, a new home had to be found for Billy.

B.C. Fish and Wildlife researched the options and decided Innisfail’s zoo, which already had six other bears, was the best place for Billy to enjoy the next post-stardom chapter in his life.

“They basically felt this was the only viable home for the bear,” says Discovery Wildlife Park co-owner Doug Bos.

Bos says that because of Billy’s day job and the need to be available for film or TV shoots, he didn’t hibernate during the winter. It’s not uncommon for bears in more temperate parts of the country not to hibernate anyway as long as they have enough food to keep them going.

In Central Alberta, Billy got a real taste of winter and hibernation started looking pretty good.

Bos says despite his lack of experience with the big sleep, Billy snuggled in just fine.

“Instincts just kick in,” he says. “When he went down, he went down quick. He had a long nap.”

Billy spent the winter in the shelter constructed for him at the zoo and happily bedded down in the straw.

Visitors can now meet Billy and his six bear buddies, along with lions, cougars, serval cats, camels, ostriches, rheas, yaks, elk, deer, llamas, porcupines, raccoons and, of course, monkeys.

The wildlife park does not seek out animals for its collection like larger zoos, which often try to find animals representative of certain ecosystems.

“We provide a home for animals that need one,” Bos notes. Often animals that come to them have been orphaned, have been confiscated by fish and wildlife officers or had owners no longer able to keep them.

Beyond the animals, cabins that have been installed for campers are also proving popular. Bos started with six but they were such a hit he added five more and then another six. They also have nearly 50 powered camping spots.

Bos said the cabins have been hugely popular with new Canadians, including many from the Philippines and who have not experienced Canadian-style camping before. The cabins allow them to enjoy the outdoors without having to buy all sorts of equipment.

He’s been surprised how popular the cabins have become.

“I thought we’d maybe rent out all 17 of them, a few weekends a year or maybe over a long weekend. But just about every weekend they were all rented out.”

It is not uncommon to see huge extended families to gather at the wildlife park to join those staying at the cabins.

The playground is also being expanded constantly with unique equipment, including a giant wooden monster truck, complete with a slide.

The park also has a list of programs and experiences for visitors, such as presentations on bear safety along with sessions featuring wolves and lions.

If you go:

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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