A 19-year-old grizzly bear is thriving in one of the world’s largest enclosures and is causing a stir on a popular social media platform.
Boo and his brother Cari were left orphaned as cubs back in 2002 after their mother was shot and killed by a poacher off the side of a highway near Wells, B.C.
At the time, there were no rehabilitation programs, so the Kicking Horse Grizzly bear refuge was created in June 2002 for the two Cariboo cubs.
"There was a five to 10 per cent chance of survival for the cubs without their mother,” says Cat Cowen, bear refuge manager at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
An enclosure of roughly 20 acres was created for the cubs with an electric fence surrounding the space and metal plates dug into the ground to keep them from digging their way out.
"We are actually the world’s largest grizzly bear enclosure,” says Cowen.
The goal of the program was to provide a space for the cubs to thrive in and to see if grizzly bears could learn things on their own if given a large enough habitat.
Grizzly cubs stay with their mother for their first four years, notes Cowen.
"How bears learn is all from their mom.... where are the best berries at what altitude... how to make a den site, how to prepare for the winter season.”
Boo and his brother only had one month with their mother in the wild to learn. During the first hibernation season, Cari died in his den following a spontaneous twist in his intestine.
Since then, Boo has learned to adapt and thrive in his space.
Today, he weighs a whopping 719 pounds, has a shiny coat and is in "fantastic" shape; what caught the eye of the world, however, was a video posted on TikTok, showing how the resort feeds Boo.
“He’s not going to get the full caloric intake from just what is in the enclosure, so we do have to supplement his diet and that’s where that video came into play,” Cowen tells Glacier Media.
Boo also needs to be physically and mentally stimulated, she says. His food needs to be spread out for him to find.
"If I am just feeding him over the fence directly, he’s just going to just sit in that one spot all day and wait."
With some creative thinking, they came up with the plan to feed him by dropping food down from the gondola that runs across his habitat. A few weeks ago, staff showed TikTok users what that process looks like. The video has been viewed more than 875,000 times.
In the clip, staff strategically drop a watermelon from the gondola into his pond. Shortly after, Boo retrieves it.
"We get tons of [food] donations [for Boo], whether it’s from locals in the area after a slaughter. We’ll take the leftovers, hunting scraps from local hunters in the area. Anything they don’t use we’ll definitely take,” says Cowen.
The bear's diet is complicated and needs a variety of nuts, berries and meat. They also utilize roadkill to feed him.
"RCMP, conservation authority, highways, they’ll give us a call if there’s been anything hit on our highways and we will go over there and pick it up,” she says. "You have to freeze it for 30 days, make sure it’s clear of any pathogens.”
Cowen chuckles that dead carcasses are pretty hard to throw over the fence, so the gondola makes things easier.
Boo is very social with his people and craves socialization, but Cowen hopes people realize that Boo is in this position because his odds of survival in the wild are very low.
"The fact that Boo is in an enclosure, we would much rather he be out there but he can’t,” she says.