Rare white grizzly bear and two cubs killed in Canada in separate car strikes

<span>A white grizzly bear, known as Nakoda, with her cubs.</span><span>Photograph: Parks Canada</span>
A white grizzly bear, known as Nakoda, with her cubs.Photograph: Parks Canada

National park staff in Canada are mourning the “devastating” loss of a rare white grizzly bear and her cubs after all three were killed in separate vehicle collisions on the same day.

The bear formally referred to as GBF178 but named Nakoda by locals had in recent months been spotted with her two cubs foraging on spring dandelions along a stretch of highway between Lake Louise and Yoho national parks.

But staff had grown increasingly concerned that her distinct platinum appearance, which often drew in curious onlookers, and her apparent love of scaling wildlife fences, could end in tragedy.

On the morning of 6 June, Nakoda’s two cubs crossed through a broken section of fencing, built to keep wildlife away from roads, and wandered on to the highway, where they were struck by a vehicle.

That evening, as park staff continued to mend the fencing, Nakoda was frightened by a passing train, prompting her to run on to the road and directly into the path of two vehicles.

Related: Rare white grizzly bear sighted in Canadian Rockies

“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 a Parks Canada spokesperson.

Nakoda nonetheless climbed a fence and lumbered the woods with a limp after being hit, park staff said, prompting hopes she would emerge bruised but largely unscathed from the encounter.

But days later, her GPS collar sent a “mortality signal”, meaning the tracking device hadn’t moved in 24 hours. When they found her, park staff said she “succumbed to internal injuries related to the collision”.

Her death has shaken park workers, who spent “hundreds upon hundreds of hours” with her over the years, Saundi Stevens, Parks Canada’s wildlife management specialist with the Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit, told reporters.

“Just weeks ago, everyone in our office was actually celebrating her emergence from the den with two new cubs.”

But the chances of a deadly encounter had grown increasingly likely in recent years.

Grizzly bears normally range in colouration from dark brown to blond, but a white bear like Nakoda is incredibly rare. Her distinct appearance made her immensely popular among photographers, on social media and to travellers along the highway.

Experts say the colouring was the result of a recessive gene – not albinism. Nor was Nakoda a member of another Canadian subspecies, the Kermode “spirit” bear, which is found in the temperate rainforests of the country’s west coast. Those elusive animals also have white fur, but are a subspecies of the black bear – not the grizzly.

In 2022, Nakoda was relocated because she spent too much time near the highway and train tracks, and the next year Parks Canada installed electric wiring on some of the wildlife fences in an attempt to stop animals like Nakoda from climbing over.

Related: Groggy grizzly bear caught emerging from hibernation in viral video

Stevens said Parks Canada has tried to limit fatalities by putting in place no-stopping zones and ordering a speed reduction in areas where the bears have been spotted in the past.

“It is an unfortunate reality that bears that become habituated to people often have negative outcomes,” she said. “The team has developed a strong fondness and connection with GBF178, and her death has been devastating for the team that was so deeply invested in trying to prevent this outcome.”

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