“Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it. They know that when a bear dies, something sacred in every living thing interconnected with that realm…also dies.”
~John A. Murray
Nestled in the heart of Kicking Horse Country and sandwiched between the Columbia and Rocky Mountain ranges lies an authentic mountain community as you’ll ever find; Golden, British Columbia. Golden is home to 3,700 residents and one lovable bruin. Boo the Grizzly Bear resides at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and has quickly become the unofficial symbol for the entire town. But Boo isn’t from Golden, in fact he grew up hundreds of kilometres away and had to endure hardships before arriving in the quaint mountain town.
Like all Grizzly cubs Boo was born in his mother’s den in the depth of winter. That spring, accompanied by their mother, the three siblings emerged from their den deep in the Cariboo Mountains and were greeted by an exciting new world to explore. Unfortunately, at a very early age, the cubs were witness to the dangers lurking outside the security of their den. Their mother was shot and killed during an act of poaching along Highway 26 near the town of Quesnel. Suddenly orphaned, cubs of that age without their mother’s protection have a very slim chance of survival. Boo and his brother Cari, so named for the mountains they were born into, were rescued by Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife and were transported to North Vancouver. Sadly the fate of the third cub was unknown. The brothers lived in North Vancouver for one year before being relocated to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in July of 2003.
From the beginning it was determined the bears would not be suitable candidates to be reintroduced to the wild. At that time there were no government-approved facilities that allowed for the rehabilitation of Grizzly Bears. The species has always been perceived as more aggressive, and therefore more dangerous, than the smaller Black Bear, so orphaned or injured Grizzly cubs had to be destroyed. Since 2007 the Northern Lights Wildlife Society in Smithers has been the only facility legally allowed to rehabilitate Grizzlies in all of North America, but they have to be cubs of the year to be considered candidates. Therefore in order to be saved Cari and Boo would have to live out their lives in captivity.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort designed an enclosure so the brothers could be as wild as possible for captive bears. The end result was a 20-acre mountainside home, one of the largest in the world, where the bears could have similar opportunities as they’d have in the wild, such as swimming, running, rodent hunting, and foraging for natural food sources instead of being solely dependent on their caregivers. Sadly Cari passed away during his first winter’s sleep at the refuge. His small intestine twisted while he was hibernating and he never woke up the following spring. Although the passing of a sibling seems tragic, Grizzly Bears often lead solitary lives so Boo would be, and has been fine on his own ever since.
Boo will celebrate his 15th birthday this year. Grizzly Bears can easily live well into their 30’s in captivity. This is also possible in the wild if they can avoid conflicts with humans. Boo’s caregivers supplement his natural food sources with a variety of items such as sweet potatoes, corn, sunflower seeds, peanuts, assorted berries, apples, plums, pears, fish, beef, pork, and even road kill, but he really loves red seedless grapes. Although he mostly hunts ground squirrels and grouse, he’s also had the opportunity to hunt moose that have found their way into his enclosure. When Boo emerges from his winter den in the spring he weighs approximately 270 kg (600 lbs), but over the course of the summer he’ll fatten himself up. Just prior to hibernation Boo can weigh as much as 400 kg (880 lbs); that’s a lot of grapes! It is also a far cry from the average Alberta Grizzly, which typically hover around 180 kg (400 lbs).
Each fall Boo’s instinctual trait kicks in and he returns to one of his dens that he established years ago. Because bears hibernate over the winter (it’s actually known as torpor, which by definition is slightly different than hibernation), Boo’s enclosure shrinks to about one-acre to allow for the resort’s skiers and snowboarders. His winter enclosure contains a man-made cabin that acts as Boo’s den. Each year his caregivers lure him into the man-made den using lucrative food items that he typically doesn’t receive, like marshmallows and freshly cooked bacon. It goes without saying that Boo’s enclosure is permanently closed, but each winter people will ski through his area anyway. Those caught have their passes revoked and are escorted off the mountain. The biggest benefit to Boo’s man-made den is the winter surveillance system, which allows his caregivers to have eyes on him all winter. They monitor his torpor state and make regular observations of his activity while he stays warm and cozy inside.
Boo’s instincts not only take charge in the fall however. Boo has actually escaped the refuge on two separate occasions, both for mating purposes. His first escape happened in 2006 when he sexually matured and he was gone for 16 days. When he returned he was almost 100 pounds lighter, which led to the belief that he wasn’t doing well on his own. It is also believed that Boo was successful at mating during his absence. There may be two offspring of his lineage living in the Purcell’s meaning Boo’s legacy will continue to live on in the wild. After this first escape the BC Government declared he must be neutered to deter future behaviour, but Boo slipped his fence again in 2011 and was gone for more than a month. This time when he returned he was basically the same weight as when he left. Four-foot steel plates, all welded together, have been vibrated into the ground along the length of his entire enclosure where there isn’t bedrock or concrete blocks sunk into the ground to prevent further tunneling under the electrified fence. Maybe it’s the preventative measures or he’s not as restless during mating season anymore, but since his 2011 escape Boo hasn’t tried to leave his refuge. Likely the most interesting piece from his escapes are that both occurred on the anniversary of the day Boo’s mother was killed.
The mountain ranges of Canada’s west are home to some very alluring wildlife, but none stirs such emotion as that of the Grizzly Bear. Each spring we are reminded about bears emerging from their winter slumber and to be vigilant while out on the landscape. They are feared and respected; loathed and admired. Portrayed as menacing killers, these often misunderstood creatures are a symbol for the raw untamed wildness that is their home. In this way Boo acts as a conduit between our world and his. He is not just a tourist attraction or a photography subject, he is in fact much, much more. He is an ambassador for his wild cousins and helps educate the public about Grizzlies and Black Bears and how to share the landscape with these noble and embattled creatures. He has the ability to change people’s perceptions and opinions about these misconceived animals. Maybe he’s not just a symbol for the town and its citizens, but a symbol for his entire species.
“Boo is a quirky guy, he has quite the personality on him. He’s highly intelligent and often makes me laugh out loud. He has taught me bears are not mean ferocious man eating beasts as they are often perceived. Bears are very individual just like we are and he motivates me to teach people the truth about bears, not the misconceptions and folklore that people love to portray them as.”
~Nicole Gangnon, Manager of the Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge
For more information about Boo or to discover how you can visit him this summer please see the Grizzly Bear Refuge website. You can also connect with Boo on Facebook and Instagram. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Nicole Gangnon for taking the time to teach me all about Boo. Without your expertise on Grizzly Bears and personal touch regarding Boo this story wouldn’t be as meaningful. Thank you!