Three bear cubs have taken to riding the rails in Canada's Rocky Mountains in search of an easy, but dangerous, meal, a national park official said on Wednesday.
The black bear cubs, each just a few months old and weighing only about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) have twice had to be pulled off rail cars after traveling about 20 km (12 miles) through the mountain passes that separate Banff National Park in the province of Alberta and Yoho National Park in British Columbia.
The cubs and their mother were climbing onto grain cars stopped at a siding to eat grain that had spilled onto a platform at the rear of the car. When the trains started up, the cubs were trapped.
"Mom can jump off but the little guys are too scared so they end up catching a ride," said Hal Morrison, a specialist in wildlife-human conflict with Parks Canada in Field, British Columbia. "This happened twice in the space of two days."
Grain spilling from rail cars is a constant temptation for wildlife in the parks but often has fatal consequences. Already this year three black bears eating grain on the tracks have been killed, joining dozens of others that have been hit by trains over the past decade.
Indeed, last week the Canadian Wheat Board said railways were not doing enough to cut down on the amount of grain spilled, though Canadian Pacific Railway has said it will spend C$20 million ($19 million) refurbishing cars to cut down on the problem.
After both trips, the cubs were rescued and returned to their mother, a tougher job than it may seem.
"Of course they're cute as all get out, but they're little bundles of fury too," Morrison said. "Try to grab them by the scruff of the neck and you've got a handful of whirling, clawing dynamite."