Over many years of observing thousands of bears both black and grizzly, the only certainty has been that each encounter has been unique. Just like people, bears have personalities, and they have emotions, and if bears are unpredictable what does that make humans? Scary unpredictable.
Over the last number of weeks we’ve had quite a bit of wildlife activity in North Island communities. Cougars looking to feed on stray cats and munching on rat-size dogs, and, as we move forward into autumn our local bruins come to town for fast-food take out at their favourite homes.
Now I know it’s only been 40 years of educating people to secure their garbage. Most people get it, much like drinking and driving, but there’s that minority of very special people, unique like the missing link between Neanderthal and modern man, who continue to place their garbage out the day before pickup.
And this is where the problem begins. It’s not a bear issue, it’s a human issue. You know — the most intelligent species on the planet? These bears, especially young males, become habituated and male bears between the ages of three and five years are much like human teenagers filled with lots of testosterone.
Two weeks ago the Port Hardy RCMP were dealing with a tagged male bear, one who had already had his paw in someone’s garbage, that was creating quite a bit of havoc for most of the day. By mid-afternoon the RCMP had caught up to the bear in question, which was on Granville near the four-way stop. The bear finally moved away from people toward the greenbelt, at which time the officer followed and appropriately discharged a bear banger to spook the bear. The officer was harangued by a number of bystanders for what he had done.
If one of those who harangued the officer is reading this, here’s just a bit of insight on young male black bears. Since 1964 the stats illustrate that more than 68 per cent of all black bears attacks resulting in humans being killed were predatory in nature. The bear killed to eat. And, where sex and age were confirmed, all the predatory bears were young males, almost all were healthy, and most were habituated where it could be inferred.
Next is the behaviour issue: bears are curious by nature. Young males, especially the 3- to 5-year-olds, as the stats above illustrate, can be quite aggressive if you don’t stop their moving from curious to bold stage. And from here they will move into predatory behaviour if the opportunity exists. When bears are habituated and lose fear of humans, aggressive steps are required to re-establish that healthy balance, and bear bangers are one tool of education.
And here’s the kicker. I’ll use a 4-year-old healthy male grizzly which was a tagged offender in Canmore, Alberta several years ago. It wasn’t until he killed a school teacher that the authorities killed him, and the authorities were chastised for not killing the bear sooner. It’s a no-win situation for the authorities. In this case it was a golf course that expanded into a major wildlife corridor, creating stress on grizzly bear tagged #99, creating a human problem bear that killed.
So instead of haranguing the authorities for trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation, go and harangue the culprits who leave their garbage unsecured, creating the situation in the first place. And it’s easy to see where the problems are in town.
Personally I say trap, tag and relocate the offending humans and we’ll not have to destroy beautiful bears. Oh, and while you’re at it, include those who drink and drive.
Lawrence Woodall is a longtime naturalist who has spent much of his life in the outdoors.