For a brief moment staff at the B.C. Wildlife Park feared Clover the Kermode bear cub had been kidnapped when the animal disappeared from its new home.
It turns out the 18-month-old white spirit bear had escaped from its pen less than 24 hours after general manager Glenn Grant introduced Clover to residents.
Clover was home Wednesday and resting comfortably after spending seven hours in the wilds of Kamloops.
“This isn’t happening. This isn’t real,” were Grant’s first thoughts. Then came the task of finding out what happened.
Clover’s keeper discovered he was missing when she went to feed him breakfast at 9 a.m. Tuesday. This was just before the park was scheduled to open.
Grant said staff searched for the bear, but he had already escaped the park. Clover’s pen, a four-meter high chain-link structure with a chain-link roof, was examined to see how Clover escaped.
The pen was intact, which ruled out someone taking the bear. Grant said this would have been difficult given the pen is kept in a locked facility behind three doors, each secured with a different padlock. But theft was an option Grant had to consider.
“To us he’s priceless,” said Grant.
It turns out Clover climbed the cage and forced his way between the roof and the walls. Grant said there are clamps about a meter apart that hold the roof in place.
This had been enough to keep the pen’s nine previous tenants in, but not Clover.
“He’s a very clever bear,” said Grant.
Grant notified the RCMP and conservation service and recruited a helicopter to search for the bear, which was found just after 11 a.m. about a kilometre and a half south of the park.
“He was just hanging out, slowly walking,” said Grant.
Park staff kept watch on Clover from the ground while the helicopter monitored from the air until COs arrived. He said Clover was safely tranquilized, recaptured and taken back to the park.
The cage has been better secured, with wire weaved through the roof and attached to the pen at multiple locations. Grant is confident Clover won’t escape again.
Just in case, an electrified barrier has been placed six inches below the roof to discourage the Kermode from climbing, he said.
“It just gives you a little zap,” he said, adding park staff have bumped into it and the jolt isn’t enough to hurt them.
Clover’s pen is only a temporary home until a new one is built this spring. The hope is the bear will hibernate through some, if not all, of the winter.
Grant said Clover eats about a five-gallon bucket of vegetables and fish a day in preparation for his long sleep.
Clover is believed to be the first spirit bear in captivity.