All photos © Robin and Arlene Karpan
Boo ranks among the most famous grizzly bears in the Canadian Rockies. He lives in the world’s largest enclosed grizzly bear refuge near Golden, British Columbia. It’s a great place to safely watch one of these magnificent creatures in natural surroundings and to learn more about bear behavior. Equally fascinating is how Boo ended up in this unique place.
Boo’s new home at the Grizzly Bear Refuge
Boo was born in the wilds of BC’s Cariboo Mountains in 2002. When only a few months old, his mother was shot by a poacher, leaving three cubs orphaned. Two cubs climbed a tree during the commotion and were waiting for their mother’s signal that the coast was clear – a call that never came. The third cub disappeared and no one knows what happened to it.
Small grizzly bear cubs are highly dependent on mom and have only about a 5% chance of survival without her. There were no rehabilitation programs or facilities for grizzly cubs at the time so the usual course of action in such cases was to euthanize them.
Fortunately, these two cubs were given a new lease on life when the Kicking Horse Resort near Golden partnered with the BC government to build the 20-acre Grizzly Bear Refuge. The only residents were the two surviving cubs, named Cari and Boo after the Cariboo Mountains. It would provide a chance for researchers to study grizzly bear behavior and a place where visitors could watch and learn about bears. Unfortunately, Cari died during the first winter hibernation, but Boo thrived and is now over 20 years old, considered mature for a grizzly.
Golden sits in a scenic valley at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers and along the Trans Canada Highway near the border with Alberta. Surrounded by soaring mountain peaks, six national parks (Glacier, Revelstoke, Kootenay, Yoho, Banff, and Jasper), and an array of lakes and rivers, it has become a mecca for outdoor recreation. The nearby Kicking Horse Resort is the main winter ski area, while in the summer visitors take the gondola to go hiking higher into the mountains. The most unusual part of the resort is that it is also the site of the Grizzly Bear Refuge.
Travelling to the Refuge
After taking the winding road part way up the mountain to the resort, we climbed aboard ski lifts to go even higher to the Refuge. We were met by Bear Refuge Manager Cat Cowan, who guided us through the facility and introduced us to Boo who is an imposing sight when he walks up to the fence. He weighed around 770 pounds during our fall visit, but Cat explained that he would add another 100 pounds or more before denning for the winter.
While Boo is restricted by a 10,000-volt electric fence, his 20-acre home resembles a typical mountain wilderness habitat as much as possible, with forest, wetlands, and places to den. Requiring 50,000 calories per day, Boo is fed a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Staff scatter, and sometimes hide, the food so that Boo has to forage similar to being in the wild. While his hunting options are limited, Boo does go after small rodents, insects, and grouse which he sometimes swats out of the air when they get close enough. One time a moose got into the refuge. Boo successfully hunted it and dined on moose for the next week.
Just as captivating as watching Boo is listening to Cat’s enthusiastic characterization of grizzly bear behavior. We learned how they eat, den, give birth, mark their territories, and how their sense of smell is an astounding 2100 times greater than ours. Cat has been in this job for eight years and is a wealth of knowledge on anything to do with bears. We couldn’t help but notice that she even has a tattoo with bear claws on her arm. Her most memorable quote – “Black bears are really really smart, grizzly bears are absolute geniuses, polar bears are Einstein.”
Panels around the compound relate more details on Boo, grizzly bears in the wild, and bears in general – bear myths, grizzly bear distribution, what to do when hiking in grizzly bear country, and different types of bear behavior. For example, when a bear rubs against a tree, it could be marking its territory, while sometimes it’s a simple matter of scratching an itch.
Because Boo was brought here at such an early age, it wouldn’t be practical for him to live completely in the wild. So visitors sometimes wonder if Boo is happy living in his refuge. A good indication is that twice he escaped from his compound but both times he returned.
The Grizzly Bear Refuge is open in the summer months with several interpretive tours operating throughout the day. Cat suggests that morning is a good time to visit since Boo often takes a nap in early afternoon. During periods of hot weather, he often retreats to shadier spots. Be prepared for cooler temperatures on the mountain, and do not bring any food into the refuge.
- Grizzly Bear Refuge
- Boo’s Instagram Page
- Tourism Golden for an overview of attractions in and around Golden
- Kootenay Rockies for a more extensive look at travel in the region
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