photo of a bear from the Calgary Herald

BC Conservation Officers opting to shoot bears, not relocate

BC Conservation Officers opting to shoot bears, not relocate

[From the Calgary Herald, July 14, 2011] VICTORIA — When conservation officers respond to a bear or cougar in a populated area, the animal will usually be shot rather than relocated, says B.C.’s top conservation officer.

Risk to humans is the sole consideration when a conservation officer decides whether to kill an animal, said Tom Clark, conservation service head.

“It’s a case-by-case basis, but it’s based on risk to public safety. If wildlife calls are made and it’s determined public safety is at risk, the expectation is that the conservation officer will have to destroy the animal,” he said.

Development in formerly wild areas means human encounters with bears and cougars are increasing.

After the Victoria-area shooting of a black bear July 3, followed by the shooting of a cougar that wandered into Sidney, 25 kilometres north of Victoria, some scientists say other options should be considered.

Last year, 657 black bears were killed by conservation officers, including 62 on Vancouver Island. Another 111 were relocated and 30 cubs sent for rehabilitation. The five-year average is 614 black bears destroyed and 104 relocated.

Forty-seven cougars were destroyed, including eight on Vancouver Island where one was relocated. The five-year average is 76 cougars killed.

Thirty-one grizzly bears were killed, 10 relocated and six cubs sent for rehabilitation. The five-year average is 40 bears destroyed and 17 relocations.

Conservation officers look at behaviour such as whether an animal has become habituated to unnatural food sources or is showing aggressive behaviour and then have to make quick, difficult decisions, Clark said.

Relocation was not feasible in either of the Victoria-area cases, he said.

“They were in a highly populated area and maybe they were displaying other behaviours,” Clark said.

Relocation is rarely possible or successful and is being used less and less, said Mike Badry, the province’s wildlife conflict prevention co-ordinator.

“If the assessment is made that the animal has to be removed, the vast majority of those animals are shot.” he said.

Moving the animal does not address the root cause of the conflict — often insecure human food —and, when animals are moved, they frequently end up in trouble, Badry said.

But shooting should not be the first choice, said University of California wildlife ecologist Chris Darimont, science-director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

“Lethal force might be the most cost-effective method but it is certainly not humane and certainly not the only option,” he said.

A change in thinking is needed, Darimont said.

“Conservation officers act on behalf of humans and human safety. Maybe we should also consider the safety and security of the animal.”

Apart from overtly aggressive animals or those habituated to human food sources, there should be a better way of dealing with lost or confused wildlife, such as negative reinforcement with pepper spray, said University of Victoria biologist Tom Reimchen.

“They are smart animals. They don’t like punishment,” he said.

“Of course there has to be another way. I believe these animals have rights.”

Reimchen is uncomfortable with the latitude given to conservation officers.

“But there hasn’t been a sufficiently significant revolt by the public to say enough is enough,” he said.

Alaska bear specialist and author Stephen Stringham, president of the consulting company Wildwatch, has coined the word bearanoia.

“People jump to the conclusion that any bear you meet is out to get you. It’s like walking down the street in your hometown and assuming everyone you meet is a mugger,” he said.

People often mistake a bear clacking his jaws as threatening, but he is really saying “get out of here, leave me alone and don’t hurt me,” Stringham said.

Non-threatening behaviour and sensitivity to body language usually defuses the situation, he said.

Some cities are now ensuring there is a green corridor so lost wildlife can be escorted out of town, he said.


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