Ottawa residents experienced an interrupted commute this morning after police were called in to deal with a black bear wandering through the Byward Market. Police promptly closed down streets and the bear was found sitting calmly in a tree near Dalhousie and Murray streets. Eventually, the bear was tranquilized by conservation officers from the Ministry of Natural Resources and was safely lowered into a cage and removed from the Byward market.
The presence of the bear left quite the impression, but Adam Brown, a professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in animal behaviour, says wildlife entering cities like Ottawa is not an uncommon phenomenon due to the city’s proximity to green space.
“Green space is one of the elements we love about our city because it allows us to have somewhat of a connection with nature while still living in an urban environment,” Brown says. “But we’ve kind of minimized the habitats of the animals that live in that environment and also encroached right up next to them.”
With the expanding urban sprawl, Brown says it’s more likely that wildlife will venture onto our terrain. In part, this is motivated by their shrinking environment, but they are also taking advantage of our messiness. “We have garbage and compost bins and bird feeders that represent food to them,” he says. “If you consider that their habitat is ever diminishing and there’s a supply of food in urban areas then it seems quite reasonable to imagine they’re venturing into these areas in order to follow the smells of food.”
Brown says that to our credit, we, as a collective, don’t panic when wildlife does appear in the city but see it more as a spectacle. “It’s the water cooler talk for the day.” This, however, does not diminish the fact that the animals can be dangerous. “Generally, black bears are quite docile animals,” Brown says, “but they are big animals and whether it’s intentionally or accidentally, they can harm us. So, there is a potential risk associated with this.”
Bears tend to be less common in urban areas than animals like deer, coyotes, and moose, but, as we continue to encroach on their territory, Brown says we need to be prepared for the fact that wildlife will venture into ours. “The fact that we’re so close to these natural areas which do contain wildlife like all of those animals, it’s sort of a scenario that would lend itself to them venturing into urban areas.”