Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A big serving of stupid

With so much wilderness around us, you'd think Manitobans would know better than to feed wild animals

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On the outskirts of Miami, people know better than to offer up barbecue scraps to the alligators who occasionally clamber up on to lawns. On the streets of New Delhi, people know better than to offer produce to roving gangs of rhesus monkeys.

In suburban areas of every city from Los Angeles to Toronto, people know better than to feed the raccoons that patrol the cul-de-sacs at night, searching for scraps of organic matter amid the garbage bins.

Based on the events of the past few weeks, it may be fair to say the residents of Toronto, L.A., New Delhi and Miami are far more intelligent than Manitobans when it comes to the subject of shoving food into the faces of wild animals.

While this province is blessed with an immense amount of wilderness, its populace doesn't appear to know jack about the creatures that dwell within our forests. If you don't believe me, consider two wildlife lessons taught by real-life Manitobans last week:


Lesson No. 1: Do not feed potato chips to wolves.


Or anything, for that matter, including grandmothers and little girls wearing red equestrian capes.

On March 8, during a drive along Highway 6, Thompson resident Dawn Hepp got out of her vehicle near Grand Rapids. She was then bitten in the neck by a wolf, according to both her own account and that of a witness in another vehicle, Cross Lake resident Clayton Ross.

The two accounts differ, however, when it comes to what preceded the apparent wolf attack. According to the version relayed by Hepp to several media outlets, she had stopped to see whether the occupants of the other vehicle needed help. After she left her vehicle, the wild canine then jumped her from behind.

According to the version Ross posted on Facebook last week and later related to Free Press reporter Alexandra Paul, Hepp approached the wolf and appeared to attempt to feed the animal something from a bag -- possibly potato chips -- before she was bit.

Wildlife experts favour the Ross account, primarily because attacks by wolves on human beings are extremely rare. In fact, there are only a handful of authenticated cases of unprovoked attacks on people by timber wolves in the wild, as the undomesticated strain of canis lupus usually goes to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with people.

If in fact Hepp was fibbing, she can be forgiven for doing so, given that she's already suffered the trauma of getting bit. But the fib itself is unfortunate, as it perpetuates the myth that wolves are vicious, cunning predators that routinely stalk human beings.

The reality is wolves play a vital role the boreal-forest ecosystem by keeping deer populations in check. They are neither to be feared as evil or approached or fed like fuzzy pets, even though they are a genetic whisper away from household dogs.

Of course, given the fact even the most daft Winnipegger would think twice before offering a strange German shepherd or chihuahua a bag of Doritos, you'd expect a resident of Thompson, which touts itself as the wolf capital of Canada, would realize it isn't safe to offer snacks to a wild animal.


Lesson No. 2: Do not feed doughnuts to bears.


Yes, this actually happened, as the facts involved in this bizarre incident have been considered by a judge.

In 2011, Peter and Judy Chernecki of Gull Lake were charged under the Wildlife Act for feeding sunflower seeds, pork fat and doughnuts to bears on their neighbour's property. On March 21, they were given a discharge in provincial court but also a scolding for potentially endangering the lives of other people in the vicinity of Gull Lake, located off Highway 12, southeast of Grand Beach.

As Bruce Owen of the Free Press reported, the Cherneckis had been feeding the creatures for 17 years and may have contributed to a bear overpopulation in the vicinity of Gull Lake.

The couple was ordered to stop offering vittles to Yogi in 2010 but continued nonetheless. They were caught in the act the following year by surveillance cameras set up by wildlife officials.

The couple claimed, through their lawyer, that they merely love bears and were trying to help them survive following the closure of a garbage dump. The judge in the case pointed out this love could have had resulted in tragedy for their neighbours.

What's disturbing about this case is the notion that feeding a bear could be considered a benevolent act. As any wildlife expert will tell you, a fed bear is a dead bear, as wild animals who grow accustomed to getting fed by people tend to wind up in conflict with humans at some point.

Bears are not cuddly creatures, despite the fact they have fur. Yet many Manitobans maintain idealized, Disney fantasies about wild mammals of all sorts.

Given the highly publicized case of the St. Malo man who abducted a wild bear cub under the rubric of "rescuing" it from the wild, you would think Manitobans would have gotten the message: Leave wild things the hell alone.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2013 A8


Updated on Monday, March 25, 2013 at 9:36 AM CDT: corrects typo

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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