New Brunswick tourism promotes business that feeds bears despite warnings against it

Black bears

The New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture promotes a “bear safari” business, where workers hand-feed a group of black bears, despite provincial biologists condemning the practice. 

At Little, Big Bear Safari in eastern New Brunswick, workers will scatter food on the ground for a group of nine bears, much like a farmer would feed a flock of hens.

The province promotes the business on their tourism website, social media platforms, and in their tourism guide. Co-owner Vivianne Goguen told CBC News that they have people come from all over the world to see these bears, but biologists with the Department of Energy and Resource Development don’t agree with what she and her husband, Richard, are doing.

“We discourage this, of course,” provincial biologist Kevin Craig told CBC in an interview. “The biggest danger to people in close proximity to wild animals is that they are unpredictable. They are wild.”

But when bears are fed by humans, it puts them in danger too. According to Parks Canada, feeding or approaching animals can cause them to lose their natural fear of people. Once they’re habituated, it leads them to more roadside areas where they can be injured or killed, attracts them to garbage, and can even cause them to become more aggressive, which often ends just as bad, if not worse, for the animal.

That’s why provinces like Ontario and British Columbia have actually outlawed the practice. Because even if it seems like common sense to some, that’s not always the case. In fact, two Vancouver Island men were charged and fined this past summer after they filmed themselves feeding what appeared to be a rice cake to a black bear.

The two unnamed men were caught after posting the video online. A  number of viewers were outraged with their irresponsible behaviour and sent tips to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

In New Brunswick, however, there are no laws to stop people from feeding wild animals like bears. Although Goguen and her husband once told reporters that they’d stop letting the bears eat from their hands, they’ve since gone back on their word.

“It’s like their way of saying ‘hi,’” Goguen said. “Then they eat the rest on the ground.”

According to a report by CBC News, the province’s tourism department declined their request for an interview, instead emailing a statement that didn’t address the safety of the visitors or the bears.

“Little, Big Bear Safari meets the criteria established by the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture for placement in the tourism guide. All businesses are required to follow provincial laws and there is no evidence that this operator failed to do so,” the statement said.

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