Misconceptions and fear led to black bear’s death in Newmarket says expert

WATCH ABOVE: Bear expert says misconceptions about bears contributed to bear death in Newmarket.  He says people have to respect, not fear, them. Christina Stevens reports.

TORONTO — A black bear shot and killed by police in a Newmarket, Ont., backyard Monday has caused outrage, and a local man who has dedicated his life to rehabilitating the gentle giants doesn’t want to see it happen again.

Mike McIntosh has been working with black bears for decades and said misconceptions about black bears are ingrained in people’s psyche, leading to fear.

READ MORE: Deer scooped from backyard pool in Whitby, returned to wild

“People see a deer and they go and grab a camera, ‘isn’t that wonderful.’ when they see a bear they go grab a gun, or call police,” said McIntosh. “And that’s unfortunate because really, you don’t need to do either.”

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McIntosh is the founder of Bear With Us Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Centre for Bears in Sprucedale, Ont. He said the bear population in Ontario is stable, and people are bound to come into contact with them. How people react can make all the difference.

He said the incident in Newmarket should have turned out very differently.

“That bear wasn’t dangerous to anybody on the ground or in the tree,” said McIntosh.

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He said the noise being made by police, including banging on chairs and using a siren, along with helicopters overhead would have been overwhelming for the bear.

“If you could put yourself in the place of that little bear, you’d probably be almost frightened to death.”

Police said they had no choice but to shoot the animal, as Ministry of Natural Resources officials had not yet arrived with tranquilizers and the bear posed a risk to public safety.

An online petition has been launched calling for “a review of Ontario law enforcement agencies and Ministry of Natural Resources wildlife response practices and to make sure animals and wildlife are not killed unnecessarily.”

McIntosh said staying calm and keeping your distance is key when spotting a black bear.

“Just enjoy the sight and be proud and thankful that we get to see them the odd time.”

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The Parks Canada website has guidelines for what to do if you encounter a bear:

  • Keep calm. Think ahead; your brain is your best defence against a bear attack. Plan how to respond if you encounter a bear.
  • Don’t run. Bears can easily outrun you. By running you may trigger an attack. Make yourself less vulnerable. Pick up small children and stay in a group.
  • Give the bear space. Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice. Do not approach the bear or make direct eye contact.
  • Leave the area or make a wide detour. If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure that it has an escape route.
  • The bear may approach you or rear up on its hind legs. Bears are often curious. If one stands on its hind legs, it is most likely trying to catch your scent; this is not necessarily a sign of aggression. Back away slowly and talk in a soft voice.
  • Do not drop objects, clothing or food to distract the bear. If the bear receives food, it will have been rewarded for its aggressive behaviour, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will repeat that behaviour again.

With files from Christina Stevens