Bear-baiting, spring hunt will produce orphans

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It is truly heartwarming to see people rally to an animal in distress such as the tiny bear cub Makoon -- rescued from a ditch and now in care.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/05/2012 (3743 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is truly heartwarming to see people rally to an animal in distress such as the tiny bear cub Makoon — rescued from a ditch and now in care.

You see similar outpourings everywhere — for dogs rescued off ice floes, beached whales and schools of dolphins that inexplicably beach themselves and people working to get them back into the water, to a goose or duck crossing the street with her young and stopping traffic.

Makoon is a lucky baby bear even if his journey had a few bumps along the road. He will live.

AP

As many as 50 bear cubs so tiny they are still nursing will not be this fortunate. The Manitoba spring bear hunt started on April 25 and runs into early June. Although the hunt regulations state no female bears are to be killed to prevent cubs from being orphaned and consequently starving to death, the reality is quite different.

Manitoba has a spring bear hunt and Manitoba allows bear-baiting (four other provinces do not allow bear-baiting).

Approximately two weeks prior to the start of hunting, large barrels are placed throughout the forest. These barrels are full of all the types of food bears coming out of hibernation want and need, including nursing females so they can produce milk for their young.

As there is the danger of a hungry male bear showing up at a barrel at the same time as the female, which could prove dangerous for the cubs, nursing females get their young cubs up a “babysitter” tree to keep them safe while she goes to eat.

While up in the babysitter tree, the cubs get a panoramic view of a forest they will never get to explore. The unsuspecting bears approach the barrel and after determining there is no danger, they feed. This goes on for two weeks and creates a false sense of safety and security.

Then the bears’ most dangerous predator arrives — humans.

This time when the bear comes to feed, it is shot and killed. If it is a female that is “accidently” shot, her cubs will die of starvation.

It is very difficult to tell a male bear from a female bear simply by their appearance, even from the shelf-like hunter’s blind mounted up in a tree where the “hunter” and their guides sit and wait — not much of a hunt is it?

More like shooting fish in a barrel or, well, a bear at a barrel. The barrel is generally placed in such a manner that the bear’s back is turned towards the hunter’s blind. The bears don’t stand a chance and certainly there isn’t the tracking and stalking and “thrill of the hunt” a person thinks of as being part of a hunt.

Due to the guaranteed orphaning of dozens of cubs, four other provinces no longer have a spring bear hunt. The hunt takes place in the fall when the cubs have been taught how to forage and have a much better chance of surviving on their own.

In the United States, 27 states have bear hunts. However, 21 of these states have banned the spring hunt. That is why the Americans come to Manitoba every year to kill our bears.

The dead bears are predominantly hunted as trophies, for that bearskin rug accessory or for a head mounted on a rec room wall.

The main reason the two hunts (spring and fall) continue in Manitoba is the guides make a lot of money from the Americans. Depriving them of this income is considered to be undesirable — better to orphan 50 cubs each year. They die in the forest, out of sight, unlike Makoon.

Given ecotourism is a growing business, it would be great to see people hunt with a camera instead of a gun. The barrels used for bear-baiting could be put in a location so the bear and its activities could be easily visible and provide the optimum once-in-a-lifetime photograph.

Tourists regularly travel to Churchill to see the polar bears just for this purpose and pay a pretty penny to do so. As well, people from all over the world converge at the snake dens at Narcisse in the Interlake to watch the spectacular rite of spring when tens of thousands of garter snakes emerge to mate.

The problem is the mindset — why should we change something that has been going on for years? People have never complained about it before, I’m guessing that’s because people have never met a Makoon before.

A letter from Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship states captured cubs are evaluated to determine their ability to survive. Unfortunately, the cubs orphaned during the spring hunt are rarely found unless their desperation for sustenance takes them near cities or towns. If it is determined the cub is unlikely to survive, the cub has to be humanely euthanized. This means it is shot by a member of Conservation’s wildlife branch. Ironically, this means the very branch that kills these cubs is the same branch that allows the spring bear hunt, thus creating the problem.

Leslie Yeoman is the co-founder the Humane Education Network in Winnipeg.

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