Wild animals shouldn’t be punished for existing in their natural environments

Euthanizing an “aggressive” bear on Burnaby Mountain was a tragedy that could have been avoided

Giving back more wilderness to bears is one way to avoid altercations in the future Photo courtesy of Nathan Denette via Global News

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

On June 24, picnickers at Burnaby Mountain Park were visited by a black bear. The bear tried to get into their backpacks for food and when challenged, the bear swiped back. The picnickers reported minor injuries from the incident, and the bear left without further bother. 

The next day, what was believed to be the same bear was caught eating garbage in a residential neighbourhood. The bear was subsequently put down for exhibiting “unusual bear behaviour” and for having lost its fear of humans. According to conservation officers, this behaviour removed all hope of relocating the bear to another area.

To kick off the list of things that are wrong with this situation, let me just say that the bear wasn’t exhibiting “unusual behavior.” The bear was exhibiting regular bear behavior in that it was searching for an easy source of food. Arguably it was the picnickers who were exhibiting unusual human behavior by leaving the security of their urban environment and venturing into the territory of wild animals — not to mention their decision to confront a large predator.

On that note, the inability to rehabilitate the bear because of its “habituation to humans” highlights just how pervasively humans have encroached on wild areas. That there are no environments far enough away from human habitation to place a bear safely paints an alarming picture of the pitiful lack of truly wild spaces, even within our vast nation. 

Conservation officials note that black bears have been sighted over 2,200 times in the Lower Mainland this spring alone. The number of reported sightings continues to grow as bears recognize human habitation as sites of easy food. This permeable boundary between human and bear territory points to how humans have altered the environment such that either the bears’ normal food sources are too scarce or human food sources are too easily accessible.

The further we sanitize the remaining pockets of wild space for human recreation, the more we must expect that encounters with wild and potentially dangerous animals will occur. We cannot allow our solution to this issue to be killing or enclosing what few apex predators remain. We as humans have the unique ability to rationally alter our behavior to find creative solutions to environmental hazards. 

As students on Burnaby Mountain, we live and study alongside a host of wildlife, and we must always be conscious of the impact our presence here has on the local fauna. It is fundamentally wrong to expect bears to stop doing bear things in the areas where bears live. Instead, we need to do the human thing and find a way to coexist with wild nature. This ultimately may mean withdrawing from it altogether.