July 10, 2015 | Last Updated: July 10, 2015 3:00 AM MDT
How strange to be a conservation officer and then risk getting punished for doing your job and conserving things.
B.C. conservation officer Bryce Casavant has been suspended with pay pending an investigation into why he let a couple of black bear cubs live. The eight-week-old cubs lost their mother, who was killed because she’d repeatedly been foraging in a freezer of fish and meat at a Port Hardy mobile home.
Casavant refused to kill the cubs, who were in a tree at the site, calling for their mother. Instead, he tranquillized them, and took them to a veterinarian, from where they were sent to a wildlife recovery centre.
Casavant did the right thing. He should be reinstated immediately. The argument that at eight weeks, these babies were already habituated to human food, and thus likely to grow up to be problem bears, is nonsense, based on studies of how bear cubs develop.
According to bearrehabilitation.org: “Sally Maughan, founder of Idaho Black Bear Rehab, Inc. has recorded extensive notes on cub development over her rehabilitation career. In general, the infant stage ranges from birth to eight weeks old. In that time, the eyes and ears open, teeth erupt, and exploration and wobble walking begin. Between eight to 12 weeks, cubs seem to pass through the bear equivalent of the terrible twos. There are swift emotional changes from calm to biting, attacking, scratching, and crying tantrums. At four to seven months old cubs are at the age of destruction and social learning as they roughhouse with siblings and other orphans. From eight months to dispersion, peace breaks out as the cubs mature and ceaselessly learn about their environment.”
In other words, the B.C. cubs didn’t have a clue what their mother was doing and they shouldn’t be punished with death for simply tagging along. It’s not like mom could get a babysitter for them while she went grocery shopping.
As Angelika Langen, co-founder of the Smithers-based Northern Lights Wildlife Society, told the media: “It’s just ridiculous. There is absolutely no scientific proof that cubs that follow their mothers for (human) food at this age have learned anything. When they’re little like this, they’re just following mom; they’re not learning yet. When they’re more than one year, it’s a totally different story.”
Chris Doyle, acting deputy chief of the Conservation Officer Service, told the media in Victoria that the Port Hardy cubs “had some level of habituation and food conditioning.” Doyle should know better than that. Casavant certainly did.
Thousands of people have signed a petition online lauding Casavant and insisting he be reinstated. I don’t think it’s just because bear cubs are cute and fuzzy. I think it’s because, as in the case of the cougar that was fatally shot last year as it peacefully sunned itself on the lawn of Calgary’s South Health Campus, people are sick and tired of the senseless and unnecessary deaths of wildlife.
A lot of people didn’t buy the official explanation that cleared the cougar shooting as a matter of public safety after some initial bumbling with tranquillizer guns. The cougar was bothering no one.
Of such incidents that make the news, one of the few that was handled properly — that is, no animal was needlessly killed — was the case of the Scenic Acres moose. When a mother moose and her twin calves turned up in a ravine in the northwest Calgary community in May, and failed to leave after a few weeks, officials tranquillized the mother, rounded up the calves, and moved the family far away out of the city.
Casavant should go back to work — he is obviously a highly competent, caring and humane individual — and the cubs should be cared for at the rehab centre until they can be released into the wild. The focus should always be on finding ways to let wildlife live, rather than killing them.
Naomi Lakritz is a Herald columnist.