04/22/2014 01:18 EDT | Updated 06/22/2014 05:59 EDT

No decision on euthanization of two bears at Nova Scotia wildlife park: minister

HALIFAX - A decision on whether to euthanize two aging bears at a provincial park in Nova Scotia depends on the advice of a veterinarian, Natural Resources Minister Zach Churchill said Tuesday.

Churchill said the health of the animals at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, about 60 kilometres northeast of Halifax, will be assessed before the province takes any action.

"These bears are reaching the end of their expected lifespan," he said. "They (veterinarians) will be reaching out to the department with a recommendation."

Churchill was responding to a report that the park was planning to euthanize the two bears. He was unsure when a decision would be made.

Department spokesman Bruce Nunn said the appointment with the veterinarian has been postponed once, but would likely take place sometime over the next two weeks.

Nunn said the lifespan of a bear in the wild is about 10 to 15 years, while in captivity it's between 20 and 22 years. He said the park's bears are about 21 years old.

Bob Petrie, the department's director of wildlife, said park staff interact with the animals every day and are adept at noticing significant changes in behaviour related to health, such as eating habits and the ability to move normally.

Petrie wouldn't confirm whether that was the case with the park's bears, saying he preferred to wait for the results of the veterinary examinations.

"Staff are seeing signs of aging and perhaps a reduction in the quality of life that the bears may be experiencing, so that's why it's cause to start asking these questions," said Petrie.

He said how the animals would be affected socially if one is euthanized is considered in similar situations. In this case, he said the bears will undergo medical assessments separately.

"We are looking at aging animals and we need to start asking these tough questions and it's not comfortable for anyone," he said.