Wild foal deaths have increased by about 20% this spring, says Darrell Glover, president of the Help Alberta Wildies Society.
The society closely monitors the feral horse population – tracking colts and fillies into adulthood in the Williams Creek Valley near Sundre Alta.
With the trail cameras, Glover said they could see more of the day-to-day life of the herd.
This year, it looks like the bears are on the hunt. Glover captured video of the wild herd kicking up dust as a grizzly bear chases.
“Although we have cougars and wolves that call the valley home, we think the bears are probably getting their fair share or maybe a bit more this year,” Glover said.
The band isn’t sounding the alarm, Glover just wants the audience to realize that wild horses have natural predators.
“We love bears. We all love wild animals,” Glover said. “Our mission is to promote awareness of the real facts with the wildlife that coexists with wild horses in the foothills.”
WATCH | Grizzly caught on video chasing wild foals:
Glover can’t determine why they’re noticing more foal deaths, but he thinks the foals are the prey. He has yet to capture a kill on camera, but there is video of two foals with visible mutilation marks on their hindquarters.
“I mean, it didn’t happen by chance, it was a predator that bit this colt and it ran away,” Glover said.
Yes, bears eat horses
Studies of bear scat show that part of their diet includes ungulates, said biologist Sarah Elmeligi. Wild horses fall into this category, along with moose, elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
This year’s snowpack is still melting, so many animals have congregated in the valleys where ungulates can graze and predators can hunt, Elmeligi said.
“Grizzlies can’t be the only culprit,” she said. “We kind of have this scenario where all the predators and all the prey are concentrated in these low-lying snowless areas.
And that just means they will naturally meet more, and it gives bears, wolves, and cougars more opportunities to precede.”
Like most predators, bears are opportunistic. Elmeligi said if a bear is strong and fast enough to take down a colt, it will.
“It’s a very high calorie, high protein meal, and this bear hasn’t eaten in five months,” she said.
Elmeligi said there was no evidence to suggest this year was exceptional in terms of foal deaths or grizzly bears catching prey. She thinks there are just more opportunities for people to observe this otherwise natural behavior.
“It’s easy for us as humans to assign value judgments to the behavior and patterns of wildlife we see,” she said. “But really, nature is just nature, that there is only one bear and these horses are just horses and they are doing exactly what they should be doing in the landscape.”