A grizzly cub that died in the Bella Coola townsite was suffering from a parasite known as Sarcocystis caninum. Little is know about the parasite, but Dr. Helen Schwantje, Wildlife Veterinarian with the province, said that this is the first time the parasite has been discovered in grizzly bears.
The cub was part of the family unit that had become a familiar site in the townsite during the month of September and October until local conservation officers destroyed the mother after several unsuccessful attempts at removal.
Dr. Schwantje said she was very happy with the efforts made by local conservation officers to send the cub for autopsy, as it enabled her and her team to do some important research.
“Last year we found a fairly high number of deceased black bear cubs in the southern part of the province were either carrying or had died of Sarcocystis caninum infection, which can affect the liver and even the brain,” she explained. “However, this is the first time we have seen the parasite in grizzly bears.”
Schwantje said that little is known about the parasite, including what its host is or how the bears become infected. She speculates they become infected through ingesting it from a food source, although it remains unclear which food source that is and why certain bears succumb to the parasite while others do not.
“It’s starting to get the attention of researchers,” she said. “It’s a relatively new thing and I think it may be a matter of the more you look, the more you find. We are not sure how much of the population is carrying the parasite or how it’s affecting them, but hopefully we will be able to do more research to find out.”
The remaining cub was sent to Northern Lights Rehabilitation Facility in Smithers