Monday, August 16, 2010

Yellowstone Bear Attack Stresses The Need For Co-Existence

In late July, a sow grizzly with three yearling cubs attacked campers in the Soda Butte area of Yellowstone National Park, rampaging through three tents in the middle of the night, badly injuring two people and killing one man. Almost immediately, the bears were captured and DNA testing identified them as the culprits within 24 hours (funny, it takes longer than that for DNA testing to link a human being with a crime). The mother was euthanized shortly thereafter and the cubs moved to a temporary holding cell until a home can be found for them at a zoo.

Now it's coming out that while the mother appeared healthy, the cubs definitely are not. Weighing only 60 to 70 pounds when they should weigh 100 to 130 pounds, and all three still sporting ragged winter coats, the cubs are badly malnourished and not very well fed. As tragic as the attack was, could this be the reason for it? A mother facing a lack of natural resources and desperate to feed her starving cubs? I don't feel that euthanizing the sow served any purpose to begin with and, in light of this new information, it now seems even more senseless. Is it supposed to teach her a lesson or act as some kind of punishment? We are warned constantly about "anthropomorphising" animals, yet we are so quick to force our notions of "justice" upon them as if they can understand the concept. I feel that a better solution would have been to place her in a sanctuary to live out her life naturally with her cubs.

Recently a black bear was euthanized in Yellowstone for developing a taste for human garbage and again it begs the question WHY? There are plenty of bear sanctuaries around that would have taken him and many of these places were started for that very reason: to take in problem bears as an alternative to killing them. Nonetheless, that incident started a mass public criticism of those who preach co-existence with bears, citing instead that we need to forcefully dominate the animal in every way possible. Someone should really inform these people that our attempts to dominate bears are a very large part of the problem. The more we attempt to exert our will on these animals, the more of their territory we invade, the more we show them that we are a dangerous predator, the more of their natural resources we eliminate, the more desperate choices they are forced to make....which can include preying upon us. Greater public education is desperately needed. Camping with electric fences and bear spray should be mandatory and people should expect certain potential consequences if they choose to go without those precautions, like driving without a seat belt. We have to be more aware of the impact our actions have on the world around us and take careful steps to ensure that animals like bears have what they need to survive without turning to us as a possible alternative. Search for "Yellowstone bear attack" and check out some of the comments on news reports of this incident and you'll get a pretty good idea of how far from a positive change we really are.

I'll cap this off with a quote from R. Yorke Edwards, a Canadian environmentalist who hit the issue square on the nose: "When all the dangerous cliffs are fenced off, all the trees that might fall on people are cut down, all of the insects that bite have been poisoned, and all of the grizzlies are dead because they are occasionally dangerous, the wilderness will not be made safe. Rather, the safety will have destroyed the wilderness."

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