NEWS

Bear expert says outcry over killing cubs is sentimental overkill

07/08/2015 07:00 EDT | Updated 07/08/2016 05:59 EDT
Retired wildlife expert Barrie Gilbert says the uproar over the bear cubs who were almost shot in B.C. has more to do with "heart strings" than conservation. 

When a B.C. conservation officer was reprimanded for refusing to kill orphaned cubs, supporters piled on, including U.K. pop icon Ricky Gervais, but Gilbert disagrees.

 He says black bears are far less threatened than Vancouver Island's elusive marmots.

"It's a value call really. Bears are not threatened at all. There are lots and lots of them," he says. 

"My personal value system is I'd rather see people put their effort into threatened populations like your marmots on Vancouver Island ... [But] the heart strings are pulled when you are talking baby bears. I mean, what's more attractive?"

Gilbert notes that cubs die naturally in their first year half the time and even a single exposure to garbage feeding can mar them for life.

Relocation is labour-intensive, prone to failure

Once bears see humans as a food source, Gilbert says they are often shot as relocation is labour-intensive and prone to failure. A bear must be moved a minimum of 100 kilometres away and often end up in another animal's territory.

Gilbert spent 35 years studying bear-human interaction after he survived a devastating grizzly attack in Yellowstone Park in 1977. The animal tore off the left side of his face, including an eye. Despite this, he says black bears are not in most cases dangerous.

"There is very little risk from black bears, except in remote areas where they don't have much familiarity with people and aren't hunted. In those cases they will follow you and try to eat you."

Until bears become familiar with humans Gilbert says they see us as "upright two-legged deer." Once they are used to humans, they are much more interested in our garbage.

"Bears are so smart. They are smarter that the average dog. Once they see a pattern where they can get some food, they will return again and again with the hypothesis that there's got to be food there again sometime."

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