A policy instituted in Alberta five years ago, which made it standard to euthanize orphaned bear cubs rather than attempt to rehabilitate them, has led to the deaths of 24 cubs in the past five years.
According to Alberta Environment spokesman Travis Ripley, researchers and biologists believe that rehabilitated bears do not have an appropriate fear of humans, which makes them a danger. Mark Boyce, Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta and Alberta Conservation Association chair in fisheries and wildlife, agrees.
“We know . . . from attempts to relocate bears, that when you do that, the bears get into trouble with local bears, and their survival is one-fifth of what it would be if they hadn’t been relocated,” he told the CBC.
However, many people disagree and think that Alberta has been too quick to euthanize bear cubs. Clio Smeeton, of Alberta’s Cochrane Ecological Institute, says she often gets calls this time of year asking her to take in orphaned bears, but because of the policy, she has to decline.
“They should say to themselves, ‘We have a facility here, it’s free, it doesn’t cost us anything. The bears will be okay, and the public will be happy,’” she said. “They can do that. But they prefer not to. They prefer to go out and shoot them.” Smeeton has 25 years worth of experience caring for orphaned bears.
Sarah Elmeligi, a former conservation planner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, believes that many bears in Alberta are already habituated to humans, yet pose little threat. Elmeligi is a PhD candidate studying how national park bears navigate around hikers. “One of the things that we’ve learned from these communities like Banff and Canmore that live on this urban wilderness interface is that co-existence is possible.”
Debates about whether bear cubs should be rehabilitated have strong supporters on each side. This summer, the story of a B.C. conservation officer who was suspended for refusing to euthanize two orphaned bear cubs went viral, prompting online debate about the issue. But according to the CBC, Alberta Environment will not change its policy without first studying the effects of bear rehabilitation closely.