Cubs of rare white grizzly bear killed after highway collision in Yoho National Park

Bear 178, seen nibbling on some dandelions, is a well-known white grizzly who has been nicknamed Nakota by locals. (Jason Leo Bantle - image credit)
Bear 178, seen nibbling on some dandelions, is a well-known white grizzly who has been nicknamed Nakota by locals. (Jason Leo Bantle - image credit)

The death of two newborn bear cubs of a rare white grizzly — known as Bear 178 — in Yoho National Park this week has reignited calls for increased awareness and highway safety for those visiting the mountains.

The cubs, whose mother is a well-known bear, nicknamed Nakoda by locals, were struck and killed along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Parks Canada says it received a call about the incident at around 5:15 a.m. on Thursday and staff found the cubs dead when they arrived at the location.

"Wildlife management staff had been monitoring the bears' movements along the road on June 5, after reports of a fence intrusion," James Eastham, a communications officer with the agency, said in a written statement.

"They took actions to prevent the bear from spending time on the highway, including making repairs to the wildlife fence and hazing the bear away from the roadside."

Despite those efforts, the bears came back to the roadside where they were struck and killed. Bear 178 was also on the road, but wasn't struck by the vehicle. She was hazed back behind the fencing by Parks Canada staff.

Relocating wasn't an option, says Parks Canada

Nakoda has 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.

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.

The agency said she wasn't seen along the road that year, but started coming back in May 2024.

Two bear cubs were killed along the Trans-Canada Highway after being hit by a car.
Two bear cubs were killed along the Trans-Canada Highway after being hit by a car.

Two bear cubs were killed along the Trans-Canada Highway after being hit by a car. (Jason Leo Bantle)

"With snow lingering in the high country and the added food stress of feeding her cubs, wildlife specialists believe she returned to familiar and reliable high-value food sources along the road," Eastham said.

Parks Canada implemented a no-stopping and speed-reduced 10-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park at that time because other safety precautions were not viable.

"Relocating Bear 178 and her cubs was not considered an option," Eastham said. "The bears were only spending short periods near the highway and the risk of moving her with her cubs was considered too great."

Mother bear struck in a separate incident

A day after her cubs were killed, Nakoda was also hit by a car and injured near a turnoff in Yoho National Park. Parks Canada said staff witnessed the collision and have been monitoring Bear 178 since then.

The agency said it is not planning to relocate the bear again. Instead, it will continue monitoring Nakoda and is reminding visitors to stay alert to wildlife.

Nakoda is one of a number of bears who have learned to climb fences.
Nakoda is one of a number of bears who have learned to climb fences.

Nakoda learned to climb fences and has spent time along the highway. (Submitted by Gary Tattersall)

"If you see wildlife on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, do not stop. If you see wildlife on secondary roads, like the Icefields Parkway, consider not stopping and if you do, stay in your vehicle and move on quickly," the agency said.

"Keeping wildlife wild is a shared responsibility and these deaths highlight the role of park visitors in preventing wildlife mortalities."

Parks Canada has issued several bear warnings for a number of areas in and around Banff National Park this spring.