Looking at her phone, C sighed deeply and muttered, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
“Pardon me?” I said. We were sitting at the breakfast table, finishing coffee, and C was checking her news feeds before heading out to work.
She explained that she got a notice from her employer, the Dept. of Conservation, that a bear had to be put down somewhere in one of the counties near the Arkansas border. People had begun to feed it, and it quickly became a nuisance – a very aggressive nuisance.
I have learned from C that bears have certain notions about food. When well-meaning people feed them like they are stray pets, bears never forget that they got a handout at their backdoor and return for more. This idea goes on a permanent loop-feed in the bear’s brain, and it is next to impossible to break that loop. When they return for their next meal and it is not there, they get increasingly aggressive, searching for their next handout.
They turn over trash cans, BBQ pits, pet bowls, they even try to break into the house by pushing through a window or back door. They start scavenging the neighborhood, following food scents to their next meal, and become increasingly irritated when they do not get what they want. Very quickly, the cute little black bear becomes a 200 lb. bully with fangs and claws.
Capturing and relocating these bears is problematic. They are not easy to catch, they are dangerous to transport to a wildlife area and, once released, they begin their search for handouts all over again in their new territory. As these mammals can smell an open jar of peanut butter from a quarter-mile away, they head straight for the nearest campsite.
Most conservationists and wildlife managers will tell you that the most effective way to deal with a bear that has been conditioned to scavenge for people food is to euthanize it. That is why they say “a fed bear is a dead bear”. Feeding a bear for the sake of entertainment or assuaging a sense of pity is actually a death sentence for the bear: feed it, and eventually some conservationist who loves wildlife must go out and kill that which he or she has dedicated their life to protect and preserve.
This is currently on the mind of many people at the Dept. of Conservation, for black bears are making a real come-back in Missouri. They have been spotted in areas where they have not been seen in years, and frequently they raid garbage cans at farm homes or in the burbs. If we could keep our garbage bagged tightly and with a lid on the can, we could help wildlife adapt better to living with people. That, and keeping in mind the lesson we all learned as kids at the zoo: “Please do not feed the bears.”