A mother bear was tragically and unnecessarily killed in Boulder, Colorado on Thursday October 8. The original headline for this very sad story read, "Boulder bear No. 317 euthanized; 2 cubs also captured," but it was later cleaned up and corrected to read "Boulder bear No. 317 killed; 2 cubs also captured." Of course, this mother bear was not euthanized, she was killed by a single gunshot to the neck and it was not a mercy killing of any sort. Indeed, some might say she was murdered. Bear 317's sad story is related to that of the killing of Blaze, a grizzly bear mother in Yellowstone Park last month, and brought visions not only of the killing but young bears left alone in a not too friendly world.
Readers of Psychology Today and many others should be, and indeed are, deeply concerned about how humans resolve human-animal conflicts. There are many issues that are directly related to how we view ourselves and nonhuman animals (animals) and act when there are inevitable conflicts of interest. Killing bear 317 should make us all think about who we are and who they are, and why the killing continues when it really doesn't have to.
Anthrozoology, words, and actions: It sucks, is it fair?
Anthrozoology is the study of human-animal relationships and killing this magnificent bear and leaving her children motherless raises all sorts of challenges and shows major contradictions between words and actions. First, of course, bear 317 wound up in city limits because humans relentlessly encrouched on her home. We've seriously compressed her and numerous other animals' habitat and when they wind up in town, food is readily available because people leave garbage outside, don't use bear-proof containers, and regrettably get away with it.
Those involved in killing bear 317 show major contradictions between their personal feelings and professional actions. In the Camera essay we read, "'It sucks. It does,' said District Wildlife Manager Kristin Cannon, who was clearly emotional over the episode. 'Especially with this community and with as much as they cared about these bears, and as much work as people were putting into trying to protect them.'" Well, then, why didn't Ms. Cannon simply say, "No, I will not partake in killing this bear." She could have followed the wonderful example of Bryce Casavant, a courageous conservation officer who refused to kill two black bear cubs on north Vancouver Island, when ordered to do so. And, her refusal may indeed be just what is needed to get others who don't want to kill animals to stop as well.
The question of fairness also comes up. Area Wildlife Manager Larry Rogstad asks, "And is it fair to the animal? This is an animal that's free ranging and wild. As nice as a wildlife sanctuary is, by no means is it comparable to the forest." He's right, but is it fair to kill her? Of course not. Bear 317 and her children were simply trying to survive in a human-dominated area and paid the price for our indiscretions and intolerance. He, too, could have refused to partake in killing her and that would have added more force to others' refusal.
Where's the science?
Mr. Rogstad also says, "I totally appreciate the concern that all people have for these bears ... It's the same concern that I share with them. However, Parks and Wildlife operates with the best science, best management practices based on science and a huge amount of experience."
Where's the science, and what's it "the science" of? Recall the same claim was made about Blaze, one Yellowstone official saying they were following "the science," whereas another said there isn't any science on which to rely. Here's that exchange:
Cathy Brown: Yellowstone National Park, can you please direct us to studies that support the claim that once a bear tastes human flesh they will become threats to humans and become dangerous to humans? Thank you.
Yellowstone National Park: We don't know of any formal studies showing that predatory attacks will be repeated: most land management agencies remove bears that consume people due to safety concerns. Allowing a bear that ate a person to live would be negligent. Bears do not normally view humans as food. A bear that views humans as food is an unreasonable hazard: waiting for more people to die before taking action is an unacceptable risk.
There really isn't a substantial scientific database for killing Bear no. 317.
Killing Bear no. 317 sucks, it isn't fair, and there is no supporting science
It's pretty simple — killing Bear no. 317 sucks, it isn't fair, and there is no science to support her death. Those people who are responsible for the killing need to say, "No more, it sucks, it isn't fair, and we really don't have any scientific support to justify this heinous act." This would be a most needed and lovely lesson in compassionate humane education and peaceful coexistence for youngsters and others to follow. The world becomes what we teach.
No one had to kill this lovely mother bear. I hope anthrozoologists will spend more time researching why these sorts of killings occur and the excuses people offer, especially among those who claim they really don't want to do it in the first place.
If people try to argue that this sort of killing is necessary and cannot stop, it will not stop. It's worth repeating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote with which I began: “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” Amen.
Note: In a thoughtful comment, Brenda Lee of the Boulder Bear Coalition writes, "However I do not see the value in blaming CPW officers for being on the ground managing risk to human life." I am not blaming them for, "being on the ground managing risk to human life." However, I am arguing that managing risk to human life does not have to involve killing and they could be part of the non-killing solution and set a wonderful example for others to follow.
And I just learned that her cubs have been relocated to the Wyoming Border.
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, and Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence. The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)