A video that shows at least two people interacting with a bear near Kennedy Lake has brought shock and outrage to the Coast.
In the video, a man hands the bear a rice cake asking it, “Want another one there bud,” before placing the food directly in the animal’s mouth. Another person films the encounter.
The man then tries to put another rice cake in the bear’s mouth but drops it, prompting the person filming to suggest ‘Just let him go for it,’ as the bear eats the cake off the ground.
“My reaction when I heard of the video that shows someone hand-feeding a young bear on the roadside was one of total disappointment, and it immediately brought to mind the maxim that a fed bear is a dead bear,” Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News.
“What these men chose to do was not only dangerous for themselves, but incredibly dangerous for the bears. I’d like to think that this was a case of ignorant behaviour—not knowing why it is dangerous feed wildlife—fuelled in part by a desire to show off on social media. Regardless of why they did it, it’s unacceptable.”
The video was posted to social media on May 3 and was seen by a concerned citizen who immediately forwarded it to the BC Conservation Officer Service (CO).
“In general, the response to this video from everybody in the public has been disappointment and shock that people are doing this,” conservation officer Daniel Eichstadter told the Westerly.
“In this video, it shows an individual hand-feeding human food right to a black bear, hand-to-mouth…It’s extremely dangerous. It’s unsafe to feed bears. It’s unsafe for yourself, it’s unsafe for the general public around you, or that may come by later, and it’s unsafe for that bear.”
Aside from the obvious immediate dangers associated with hand-feeding a predator, Eichstadter said feeding bears leads to habituation and allows them to think of humans as food sources. Bears that become habituated can become dangerous and are often killed by the CO to protect the public.
“Bears have a natural fear of humans and vehicles and they stay away. But, once you feed them, they get a reward and they understand that, ‘Being around people means, I’m going to eat and I’m going to eat well,’” Eichstadter said.
“That bear is going to be used to people. It’s going to approach people that are in the area and it’s going to assume they have food.”
He suggested bears can learn new behaviours quickly and one encounter is enough to nix their natural fear of humans.
“It only takes one instance of a bear getting human food in the presence of humans to understand that, ‘If I go around people, I’m going to get this kind of food,’” he said. “If you see a bear on the side of the road, show that animal the respect it deserves. Stay clear of it, don’t get out of your car, don’t throw food out for it, just enjoy it in its natural environment. Let that animal act naturally. That’s the best thing for it and for the public that’s there right then and the people who are coming in the future.”
He added information about habituating wildlife is widely available and the people in the video likely knew the dangers of their actions.
“The message is getting out but not everybody is choosing to listen to it,” he said. “It’s frustrating that the activity is still happening.”
He commended the person who brought the video to the CO’s attention and said an investigation has been launched to try to identify the people in it.
“We rely on the public to be our eyes out in the field for us and making those reports allows us to follow up on those incidents where people are taking on unsafe activities,” he said.
“The CO service is actively looking for information from the general public as to the identity of these people and the people who posted [the video]. Anybody who might have that information is encouraged to please contact the RAPP Line, 1-877-952-7277, to provide that information.”
Under the BC Wildlife Act, anyone caught feeding dangerous wildlife faces a $345 fine but Eichstadter said much more serious charges are potentially at play.
“For a first time offence under the BC Wildlife Act, you could face a fine up to $100,000 and/or one-year imprisonment,” he said.
He said the CO has identified and located the bear in the video but has no immediate plans to euthanize the animal.
“At this point, right now, the CO service has no intent to remove that bear,” he said. “It is in a wilderness environment and we’ll monitor it to see if it develops any aggressive or threatening behaviour.”
Eichstadter urges locals to help cut down on habituation, and keep wildlife wild, by securing garbage, keeping barbecues and outdoor eating areas clean and keeping all pet food indoors.
He added bird feeders should be put away.
“It is nice to have those feeders out to see the birds come in but, there is lots of natural food around this area for birds,” he said.
Anyone who spots a bear in town should immediately report their sighting to the CO at 1-877-952-7277. Eichstadter acknowledged that some locals are hesitant to call the CO for fear that the animal they’re reporting would be killed but, he said, early reports help the CO move bears along safely.
“If you phone us early enough when that bear starts to show up, we can help in mitigating that risk and removing the attractant so that we don’t have to euthanize the animal,” he said. “If you wait too late where an animal has progressed through certain levels of behaviours, there’s very little choice in what we can do; our hands are tied.”
Mayor Osborne suggested more could be done to ensure visitors understand the consequences of their actions.
“Locally, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, visitor information centres, and organizations like the Raincoast Education Society do a good job getting the word out to locals and visitors about respectful behaviour around wildlife, but it seems we can always do more,” she said.
“I think getting the word out through information to RV and car renters could be a good avenue for more awareness, and more highway signage akin to what the BC Wildfire Service has about campfires and fire ratings. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to see a prominent sign on Highway 4 leaving Port Alberni that provided messaging about feeding and photographing wildlife.”