Seeing two bear cubs nuzzle and push the dead body of their mother broke Cathie Mieyette’s heart.
Mieyette had just turned on to Highway 313 on her way to Winnipeg Saturday morning when she came upon the sad scene.
It was reminiscent of the fate of another baby bear that made national headlines this spring.
That bear, named Makoon, was taken in by a St. Malo man, who said he’d found the cub, apparently starving and motherless, in a ditch along a highway.
He took the tiny cub home, put a collar on him, bottle fed him, gave him a name and saw some 600 strangers come to visit the tyke, hold him and take photos.
After the story went national, Manitoba Conservation scooped up the cub and released it into the wild. Critics were outraged, arguing the bear was too small to survive on its own.
That’s a fate the woman on Highway 313 wanted to avoid this time.
"Everybody is going crazy because of Makoon being released and they don’t want that to happen to them," said Mieyette, who runs an animal shelter for dogs.
She compared the cubs to her cocker spaniels in terms of their size.
Mieyette said she pulled over when she spotted the bears.
By that time, the two cubs were in full panic, frantically running onto the highway and weaving in and out of weekend traffic.
It was a scene Mieyette said she will never forget.
"I saw the mother bear, dead, on the side of the highway and two babies. One was on top of the mother bear and the other was at her side, nuzzling her. It looked like she was drinking.
"Then she started to scream, or cry. I don’t know what you call it," Mieyette said.
The cub’s bawling stopped her cold. Watching the cubs try to push their mother was heartbreaking, she said.
She said two other motorists, also women, stopped and the three of them directed traffic away from the cubs to spare them the same fate as their mother.
A spokesman for Manitoba Conservation said Natural Resource officers were called to the scene but they couldn’t capture the cubs.
"The cubs have disappeared into the bush... they are in the wild," the spokesman said. Officers removed the carcass of the mother bear from the side of the road.
The incident happened at around 10 a.m., 20 minutes north of Lac du Bonnet on Highway 313.
RCMP were also called to the scene, a spokeswoman said.
"Conservation was already on the scene. The concern was not that the highway was obstructed in any way — which I understand it wasn’t — it was for the cubs," RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said.
Mieyette said there was a marsh across the highway that the cubs disappeared into, but the bigger of the two kept returning to the highway.
It looked like the cub was trying to get back to the mother bear, "but we were the deterrents. We were in the way," Mieyette said.
The second cub was more timid. It stayed in the marsh but remained visible from the road. The women stayed on the scene until the Conservation officers arrived.
Manitoba Conservation issued a statement last night urging people to stay away from the area, as crowds could scare the animals and further endanger them.
"They may return to the area where the adult female was last with them. Efforts to safely remove the bears to a more appropriate area of the forest will continue," the statement said.