The death of Charlie, a black bear shot and killed just two weeks after being rehabilitated and released, is an unfortunate reminder of how conflict between man and wildlife often ends badly for the animal side of the equation.
The government is reviewing the circumstances leading to the failure of what should have been a success story after Charlie and a second bear, Mascwa, were rehabilitated at the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI).
Mascwa is doing fine, which is at least a little good news in this tragic tale.
While the property owner who shot Charlie was within his legal right to kill the animal, we wonder if it was the only course of action available? If so, we also wonder why the bear was so comfortable around people and exhibited very different behaviour compared to the bear it was jointly rehabilitated with.
Brett Boukall, a senior wildlife biologist with the Government of Alberta, said Charlie wandered a long way out of bear habitat into an agricultural area that had a greater human population. According to the government, Charlie was exhibiting signs of habituation, which is almost always lethal to wildlife.
How could two bears rehabilitated exactly the same way have one display habituated characteristics while the other doesn't? Hopefully the review will answer that question. We also hope Charlie did not encounter human interference that ultimately led to his death.
It is far too often we see images of people feeding or approaching wildlife, or animals foraging on properties that have not been properly wildlife-proofed. This failure to live responsibly within our environment leads to countless animal deaths every year. Just last week, our sister paper, the Rocky Mountain Outlook reported vandals cutting holes in the animal barrier fencing along the highway. If the culprits are ever caught, they should face more than destruction of property charges, but charges under the animal protection act as well.
It's bad enough that development and ballooning tourism has increased the potential for wildlife and human conflict or reduced habitat ranges, but to have people's willful ignorance contributing to the death of wildlife is unacceptable. Feeding wildlife in a national park comes with a maximum $25,000 fine, yet people still do it, which means park officials need to be slapping people with the maximum penalty more often to set an example.
Such a law should be extended outside parks. People have to understand that feeding wildlife is not cute nor helpful, it is deadly for the animal and possibly the humans who come into contact with them.
We hope the government's review sheds some light on Charlie's case. We are also hopeful that Boukall is sincere when he said the government is committed to wildlife rehabilitation and part of the review will include whether changes are needed for its new bear rehabilitation protocol and not simply cast the CEI as the scapegoat.
Keep in mind, according to Clio Smeeton, president of the CEI, prior to the government protocol, between 1996 and 2012 the CEI had not lost a single bear it had rehabilitated to human conflict.