Wildlife conservation in Canada: Who says we have the right to kill animals?

Image by miguelb| flickr.com

Image by miguelb| flickr.com

Recently, a news story reported that Bryce Casavant, a conservation officer in British Columbia, refused orders to kill two black bear cubs that were found raiding a meat freezer in a mobile home near Port Hardy. Previously, the mother of the cubs had been repeatedly ransacking the same freezer, resulting in her being killed by the conservation service. In search of the mother, the curious cubs remained on-site. Instead of following orders, the officer captured the cubs and took them to a veterinary hospital, followed by a wildlife recovery association. The association said that the officer did the right thing by not killing the cubs, since they posed no risk and could be re-introduced into the wild in the future. Due to disobeying orders, Bryce Casavant was suspended without pay from his job. This is not the first time a wild animal has been killed for being habituated to humans and it won’t be the last. In 2013, a friendly deer was killed in British Columbia after videos of the deer nuzzling and approaching humans was posted online.  

Is it right to kill wild animals when humans feel threatened?

From my perspective, wild animals are just that: wild. We cannot predict how they will react, nor can we reason with an animal when they are doing something we do not like. For instance, if a person trespasses on your property, you can communicate with them and tell them to leave. With a bear, you cannot voice your concerns in the same way. Are they really at fault for trying to find the most readily accessible food source? Rules established by people are not ones recognized by other animals, which brings me to my second thought: humans are increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats. We cut down forests and develop land, grow farms, build malls, etc. For everything humans build, we take away from the natural landscape. Wildlife populations have to adapt or die due to human pressures such as: habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, disturbance, climate change, and over-exploitation. With this in mind, it is no wonder that animals have to forage increasingly farther away from home in order to hunt and survive. Humans are a part of – if not entirely ­– the problem. We feed wild animals because they are cute, but complain when they become a nuisance. It should not come as a surprise when animals start rummaging through our garbage, or taking advantage of easily accessible food sources. I do not blame them.

We fear these creatures because they are wild. Of course, you do not want a wild animal (or a person, for that matter) to take your food without permission. However, we have to realize why it is happening.

The common conservation practice is to kill animals that become habituated to humans. It is a shame that we cannot live alongside other animals without trepidation. Further still, it is a disheartening concept that we place an intrinsic value on human lives but not on those of other animals. So what are the alternatives? Relocation, rehabilitation, animal-safe containers? These solutions may work for smaller animals but is often expensive for larger mammals. The government cares about conservation in terms of protecting its investment in our natural resources. If conservation was truly about species diversity and ecosystems we wouldn't be shooting animals in our backyard. We would be reducing our impact on these areas or looking to cost-effective solutions that reduces habituation. In many protected areas we allow culling to control and balance wildlife populations. The hard truth of the matter is: these systems are only unbalanced and in need of control by humans because of unsustainable development from humans.

Black bear cubs stay with their mother for approximately a year and a half. She teaches them how to hunt, climb trees, and forage for food. A black bear’s diet consists of mostly berries and insects, and occasionally mammals. Without the mother, it is unlikely a cub will survive. I understand the reasoning behind killing the mother bear, after she had returned to the same spot multiple times; she may have kept returning, and each repeat visit raises the potential threat to human safety. Regardless, the order to kill the cubs seems like a drastic over-reach. With proper rehabilitation, the cubs can be successfully reintroduced into the wild. This being the case, why was it not the first option considered?  

I think we should fear wild animals, as they are unpredictable beings. However, they are also beautiful, intelligent, amazing forces of nature. I do not think the order to kill another living thing should come so easily. Realistically,  I'm not certain if it should not be a decision that humans are allowed to make at all.

This article was originally published by Sustainable Collective, which has since merged with The Starfish Canada.