03/18/2014 12:23 EDT | Updated 05/18/2014 05:59 EDT

First Banff Grizzly Spotted After Long Winter (PHOTO, VIDEO)

BANFF, Alta. - Officials at Banff National Park say the first bear of spring could be a sign that Alberta's long, cold winter may finally be on its way out.

Banff resource officer Mike Grande says the 225-kilogram male grizzly was slowly making its way through deep snow when it was spotted by a rail crew a couple of days ago about 15 kilometres west of the Banff town site.

He says the animal still had plenty of winter fat, and, despite the heavy snow, was probably lured out of hibernation by warmer weather after months of below-average temperatures.

"We had that warmer weather. If it had been a little bit cooler when he first poked his head out, then maybe he would have stayed in a little bit longer," said Grande.

"In terms of an emergence, this is about as early as it normally happens. That's not a bad sign for sure."

Grande estimates the bear bedded down in late December. Since bears can usually live off their fat stores for four or five months, this one was in pretty good shape after snoozing for only three months. The usual time to emerge from the den is early April.

Female bears with cubs usually don't risk venturing out until early May.

There are only a handful of older male grizzlies in the park and this one probably headed out looking for familiar feeding grounds, Grande suggested.

"He may have checked a few avalanche paths looking for animals that may have been caught up in an avalanche ... and there's a higher chance of that happening this year," he said.

"Then he probably would have gone straight for the valley bottom and the rail line. There's a grain spill that happens over the course of the time he's been denning as well as rail kill."

Grande said most people don't realize that grizzlies are omnivores, meaning they'll eat both plants and animals, and only about 15 per cent of their diet comes from meat.

The grizzly sighting is a reminder to the public that it's once again bear season in the park and care must be taken, he said.

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

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