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‘Options were limited’

These three bear cubs had been hanging out along the riverbank of Hamilton River Road with their mother recently, but due to the public safety concerns, a conservation officer put down the mother bear on Sept. 18. The cubs  — which were first-year cubs — were located, tranquilized, and later put down on Sunday, Sept. 20, due to the low probability of survival without their mother.
These three bear cubs had been hanging out along the riverbank of Hamilton River Road with their mother recently, but due to the public safety concerns, a conservation officer put down the mother bear on Sept. 18. The cubs — which were first-year cubs — were located, tranquilized, and later put down on Sunday, Sept. 20, due to the low probability of survival without their mother.

A mother bear and her three cubs had to be destroyed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this past weekend.

Craig Coady, District Ecosystem Manager-Forestry Services Branch, said options were limited as to what conservation officers could do, citing significant public safety concerns for the decision.

The initial call regarding the mother bear came on Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, from a resident who spotted a black bear in their backyard within the Hamilton River Road area.

“Once the officer attended the scene, he found an adult black bear feeding on a bag of garbage,” explained Coady.

“The officer talked to the residents in the immediate area to get additional information. He assessed what was going on there and he made several attempts to drive the bear away by approaching the bear, yelling, making loud noises. Coady said generally, this would be enough to drive away most bears, however, this bear showed no fear whatsoever of people and just continued feeding.

“Of course, once the officer observed this, he took another look at the bear and he noticed that the bear didn’t pay no mind to him whatsoever. It was habituated to human food.”

Coady noted at that point, it became obvious the bear was perfectly at ease being in close proximity to people.

“There was a legitimate public safety issue there and the officer dealt with it with the best information at the time.

“Given the proximity and the potential risk to the public, and the bears habituation to human food and lack of fear of humans, he made the decision at that point — for public safety reasons — to put that bear down.”

He said tranquilizing the bear was not an option.

“Once the drug is administered via dart, and assuming everything goes to plan once that drug is in the bear, it takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes — and sometimes longer if that dart’s not placed correctly — for that drug to take effect,” Coady explained. “And a bear can move a long ways in 10 minutes. And if that bear runs through the bush, it’s as good as gone, you’re not going to find it. We try to avoid doing that.

“Often times, when we tranquilize bears, they are in a trap already, or a leg snare or what have you.”

Craig Coady, District Ecosystem Manager-Forestry Services Branch, said options were limited as to what conservation officers could do, citing significant public safety concerns for the decision.

The initial call regarding the mother bear came on Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, from a resident who spotted a black bear in their backyard within the Hamilton River Road area.

“Once the officer attended the scene, he found an adult black bear feeding on a bag of garbage,” explained Coady.

“The officer talked to the residents in the immediate area to get additional information. He assessed what was going on there and he made several attempts to drive the bear away by approaching the bear, yelling, making loud noises. Coady said generally, this would be enough to drive away most bears, however, this bear showed no fear whatsoever of people and just continued feeding.

“Of course, once the officer observed this, he took another look at the bear and he noticed that the bear didn’t pay no mind to him whatsoever. It was habituated to human food.”

Coady noted at that point, it became obvious the bear was perfectly at ease being in close proximity to people.

“There was a legitimate public safety issue there and the officer dealt with it with the best information at the time.

“Given the proximity and the potential risk to the public, and the bears habituation to human food and lack of fear of humans, he made the decision at that point — for public safety reasons — to put that bear down.”

He said tranquilizing the bear was not an option.

“Once the drug is administered via dart, and assuming everything goes to plan once that drug is in the bear, it takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes — and sometimes longer if that dart’s not placed correctly — for that drug to take effect,” Coady explained. “And a bear can move a long ways in 10 minutes. And if that bear runs through the bush, it’s as good as gone, you’re not going to find it. We try to avoid doing that.

“Often times, when we tranquilize bears, they are in a trap already, or a leg snare or what have you.”

One of the three bear cubs that was destroyed on Sept. 20.

Fate of cubs

Once the bear was destroyed, the conservation officer on the scene determined it was a female bear that had been nursing.

“It’s important to note at the time there was no sign of cubs in the area initially, nor was there a report of cubs in the initial phone call,” said Coady.

There were no reported sightings of the cubs until the next day.

“On Saturday (Sept. 19), we received a call about three cubs and officers attended that scene and they did see the cubs. It was late in the evening and they didn’t really have an opportunity to do anything with them and they weren’t right in town; they were more off in the woods a little bit. So they checked back in the morning (Sunday, Sept. 20) and there was no sign of them. But that night, we received a call that the three cubs in the Green Street area.”

Officers investigated and located the three cubs in a tree near in very close proximity to Queen of Peace Middle School, noted Coady.

“At this point, after having observed the cubs in several different areas without their mother throughout the weekend, the consensus was there was a high likelihood that these were the cubs of the bear that had been put down, unfortunately,” he said.

Coady said the conservation officers waited the cubs out and tranquilized them after they climbed down. They then placed them in a live trap and removed them from the town.

“At that point, there was a discussion amongst the officers and they consulted with others who had experience in this area as well as to the survivability of those cubs (without their mother),” said Coady.

“Given their age — they were first-year cubs — they did an assessment of their physical condition and what have you, and the options were to either release those cubs in a very vulnerable condition out into the woods or to euthanize the cubs. The decision was made that the most humane thing to do would be to euthanize those cubs while they were sedated.”

Coady stressed the outcome for both the mother and her cubs was very unfortunate all around.

“It’s not a preferred outcome from our perspective. But sometimes, it’s a necessary outcome. Again, it was the most humane thing, Cubs that size really didn’t stand much of a chance for survival and faced a difficult go of it.”

Lots of bears

Coady said his office has received “numerous” calls regarding bears in the general area in which the mother and cubs were over the summer.

“I guess what’s happening there, there’s a natural corridor between the river and the town where the bears travel along.  We’ve actually removed one adult bear since the weekend (Sept.19-20), in the same general area. And we have a live trap deployed in the same area to get another adult bear.”

Coady said according to information he’s received from the regional biologist in Goose Bay, the increase in the bear population is more of a reflection of what happened in the previous year — a bumper crop of berries.

“Last year, we had a really good bumper berry crop. And we noticed it right off the bat in the spring. We’re seeing bears with three cubs, four cubs. There was actually a report this year of a mother bear that had five cubs in tow. And you don’t see those numbers very often. I think it’s fair to say that the bear population this year has been up significantly from previous years.”

Coady said the general public should also do its part to help curb the problem of bears coming into residential areas.

“One of the reasons we run into these situations is that these bears are gaining access to food and to people’s garbage. As a community, and as individuals, I think we need to take a look at how we manage and handle our food waste and our garbage. If we’re able to make some small adjustments there, I think it would go a long, long way to preventing these types of things.”

Coady suggest storing garbage in a garage or shed until the morning of pick up.

“I’m quite comfortable in saying 99 per cent of our calls about bears in the community are having to do with the bears — one way or another — gaining access to garbage or human food,” he said.

“If we can tone that down, I think it would go a long way to preventing these types of situations. “

 

bonnie.learning@tc.tc

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