Mourning loss of beloved blond bear, wildlife advocates want more protection for the animals

Bear 178, known as Nakoda, died of injuries sustained during a highway collision in Yoho National Park last week. (Jason Leo Bantle/All in the Wild Photography - image credit)
Bear 178, known as Nakoda, died of injuries sustained during a highway collision in Yoho National Park last week. (Jason Leo Bantle/All in the Wild Photography - image credit)

The message from wildlife advocates is clear after the death of a beloved blond bear and her two cubs: more needs to be done to protect the animals.

Bear 178 — a rare white grizzly nicknamed Nakoda by locals — died Saturday of injuries she suffered in a car collision two days earlier in Yoho National Park.

Her two cubs were struck and killed along the highway in the same area around 12 hours earlier.

"I've been on that highway and very few people drive the speed limit," said Jason Leo Bantle, a nature photographer who's been following the bear for years.

"I've spent a lot of moments with her, not long moments, it's been quick moments, but intimate times where you're looking through a lens and you're looking into the eye of the bear and she has a story to tell … she's a beautiful, beautiful creature."

Bear 178, seen nibbling on some dandelions, is a well-known white grizzly who has been nicknamed Nakota by locals.
Bear 178, seen nibbling on some dandelions, is a well-known white grizzly who has been nicknamed Nakota by locals.

Bear 178, seen nibbling on some dandelions, was a well-known white grizzly who had been nicknamed Nakoda by locals. (Jason Leo Bantle)

After witnessing the collision that injured Nakoda, wildlife managers with Parks Canada saw her climb a fence and run into the woods with a slight limp.

They had hoped she'd be able to walk off her wounds and survive, but that wasn't the case.

On Saturday, the bear's GPS collar sent a mortality signal, meaning the device had been stationary for 24 hours. Staff then confirmed Nakoda's death, saying they suspect she had died of internal injuries sustained in the collision.

"The bear was startled by a train and ran into the road in front of two vehicles. One vehicle was able to swerve and avoid a collision, but a second vehicle was unable to react in time and struck the bear," said Parks Canada spokesperson James Eastham.

"While Parks Canada is working hard to make roads safer for wildlife, we must once again emphasize to visitors of the importance of not stopping to view wildlife, driving cautiously and obeying speed limits."

Nakoda's death is the most recent of 61 bear mortalities, both black and grizzly, over the past four years across Kootenay National Park, Yoho National Park and Lake Louise, according to data from Parks Canada. She's the sixth breeding female in those same parks to have died since 2019.

As of June 11, four grizzly bears and nine black bears have been killed due to car or train collisions this year.

Those numbers are worrying, according to Clayton Lamb, a wildlife scientist with Biodiversity Pathways, a research institute at the University of British Columbia.

"Every death, especially of adult females, can have outsized impacts and cause declines or reduce the viability of those bear populations," Lamb said.

Nakoda had learned to climb fences and drew attention because of her acrobatic abilities.
Nakoda had learned to climb fences and drew attention because of her acrobatic abilities.

Nakoda had learned to climb fences and drew attention because of her acrobatic abilities. (Jason Leo Bantle/All in the Wild Photography)

Nakoda had been known to climb fences and hang out around the highway. She became habituated to humans because of the frequent interactions she had while spending time roadside, according to Parks Canada.

In 2022, she was relocated within her home range because of the time she was spending near the highway and near train tracks.

At that time, a no-stopping and speed-reduced section of the Trans-Canada Highway was created, stretching 10 kilometres in Yoho National Park, because relocating the bear and her cubs was not an option.

A year later, Parks Canada put up 15 kilometres of electric wiring on fences west of Lake Louise into the Yoho park boundary, partially to stop the white bear from climbing over.

Parks Canada said Nakoda wasn't seen along the road in 2023 but started coming back this May.

According to Lamb, the infrastructure implemented in Banff and Yoho national parks is among the best in the world. It's estimated the barriers have reduced bear mortalities by 85 per cent, he said.

That, however, doesn't stop the issue of human interactions.

"In Banff and Yoho, which are Canada's flagship national parks, they are places that see hundreds of thousands of visitors a year … in those areas there's a fairly fragile population of grizzly bears," Lamb said.

"Having all those people in what used to be bear habitat creates that overlap that often doesn't work out for bears. I think we've seen that through a number of road and railway collisions."