LAKE LOUISE – Bear behaviour and safety experts have dismissed reports that two well-known grizzly bears travelling the same trail as a group of 13 hikers for 20 minutes near Moraine Lake last week were stalking the group.
Had the group stepped off the Consolation Lakes trail, they say bear 142 and her yearling cub likely would have simply walked past, noting larger group sizes of four or more are less likely to have a serious bear encounter.
Sarah Elmeligi, a bear behaviour biologist and Banff-Kananaskis MLA, said she believes the hiking guide did a great job of keeping everyone calm, noting it would have been a very nerve-racking and scary experience.
“But based on the clip that is online, it does not look to me like the bears are stalking people. I think they were just walking on the trail, just going from A to B,” said Elmeligi, the NDP’s oppositon critic for tourism, sport and recreation.
“I would not qualify that as like aggressive or stalking behaviour. It looked to me like the bears were just walking down the trail because they wanted to go somewhere.”
Phoebe Nicholson, who is a guide with Discover Banff Tours, was leading the hike along Consolation Lake Trail near Moraine Lake when two grizzly bears meandered down towards the trail, and ended up following the group in the same direction for about 20 minutes.
A video filmed by one of the hikers went viral, with headlines around the world saying the two bears were stalking the hiking group. There were suggestions that the cub may have bluff-charged, but specialists say that could also have been rambunctious cub behaviour.
Based on the bears’ behaviour at the time and their history of co-existing with people on a busy landscape, Parks Canada did not believe the encounter warranted a warning or closure.
Resource conservation specialists did monitor the area afterwards, though.
“These bears are seen frequently in the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake areas and were likely travelling through the area and in the same direction as the reporting party,” said Ashley Gales, acting public relations and communications officer for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.
“There are no warnings or closures in place at this time.”
Nick de Ruyter, program director for Bow Valley WildSmart, said this could not be called a stalking based on the evidence in the video.
“The bears were walking down a trail, they were very calm, not acting aggressive, and not interested in the people whatsoever,” he said.
“The bears were walking down the trail in their backyard …. Why would you walk through the trees when you could walk on a trail, which is much easier.”
Based on what was seen in the video, both Elmeligi’s and de Ruyter’s recommendation would have been for the group of hikers to back away slowly, move off the trail when safe to do so and let the bears pass.
“The bears probably would have just continued down the trail and that would have been the end of it,” said Elmeligi.
“It could have been a much shorter encounter. It didn’t necessarily have to be 20 to 25 minutes, which is pretty crazy.”
While it appears only the guide was carrying bear spray on this hike, both Elmeligi and de Ruyter recommend all members of a group carry bear spray.
“That’s the safest option because you never know if the group gets split up or what might happen,” said de Ruyter.
“Some people might stop to take a pee break and go through the woods by themselves.”
In spring 2022, grizzly bear 142 emerged from the den with three cubs in tow; however, two of them were likely killed by grizzly bear No. 136, also known as Split Lip, for his disfigured mouth.
Split Lip was spotted chasing the cubs near Upper Lake Louise on the night of June 22 last year, and in the following days, bear 142 was seen with only one cub.
Believed to be about 13 years old, the female grizzly forced the temporary closure of the Paradise Valley area near Moraine Lake on Aug. 30 after she and her cub successfully killed a mountain goat.
They were also seen feeding on a mountain goat carcass in early May, forcing the closure of an area of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail near Lake Louise.
Parks Canada asks that all wildlife interactions be reported to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.
Discover Banff Tours did not get back to the Outlook by press time.