Released black bear shot dead after going too close to kids in southwestern Alberta

Rehabilitated bear shot weeks after release in southwestern Alberta
WATCH: A 16-month-old black bear rehabilitated at the Cochrane Ecological Institute was killed on Monday, leaving those who raised him asking questions. Michael King reports.

A rehabilitated black bear was shot and killed on private land Monday, less than a two weeks after his release, according to a Tuesday news release from Alberta Environment and Parks.

READ MORE: Black bears rehabilitated at Cochrane facility released in remote Alberta forest

In 2018, the Cochrane Ecological Institute took in that orphaned male cub along with a female. The pair were released separately in “remote southwestern Alberta” locations on June 20, 2019. AEP would not confirm the specific spots to ensure that people wouldn’t seek them out.

Landowner ‘within his rights’

The 16-month old bear was shot after it wandered near children on private land on July 1 about 120 kilometres north of where he was released.

No charges will be laid, AEP said.

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Jess Sinclair, press secretary to the minister of environment and parks, said the landowner was “within his rights” to protect his family.

“This was on their own property,” she said. “They weren’t hunting the bear. They didn’t deliberately set out to injure or kill the bear, but the bear was threatening the children, essentially. So we don’t consider that a legal issue.”

Sinclair said it’s sad for everyone.

“This is not the outcome that any of us were hoping for,” she said. “It’s very sad. Based on the feedback from our experts, we always have bear safety and human safety at the top of our minds and we really hate to see something like this happen.”

AEP said it will continue to monitor the female bear, who has remained close to where she was released.


AEP said it was concerned about the “abnormal behaviour” of the male.

“The bear was definitely not acting like a typical black bear of its age. They should be a lot more wary of humans,” Sinclair said.

“The more that they see people as a source of food, the more dangerous it is for both bear and human.”

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AEP will review data since the bear’s release and his rehab experience.

“For now, [the Cochrane Ecological Institute] won’t be permitted to take on new bears while that evaluation is being conducted,” Sinclair said.

READ MORE: Rehab centre concerned for Alberta black bear cubs as release date looms

Clio Smeeton, president of the Cochrane Ecological Institute, said they have been rearing and releasing black bears successfully under government permit since 1985. This time, they were “forbade” from the release process.

“When they decide to do it all on their own, what happens? They lose one and they blame it on us,” she said.

“We don’t know if somebody had to shoot him. We do not know where he was released because we’re not informed. We had no input as to release site. Ideally, you want to put them in an area that is a significant distance away from an inhabited area.”

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She said the cubs were fit to forage in a vast enclosure with trees and minimal human contact.

“It also means they are not habituated because they do not look for us in the way of food. We put the food out and they don’t even come for it,” Smeeton said.

“So the vision of habituated animals standing around begging for food is bullshit,” she said.

The black bear who died on July 1, 2019 is pictured in May 2018.
The black bear who died on July 1, 2019 is pictured in May 2018. Courtesy: Cochrane Ecological Institute

Smeeton said there are two kinds of habituation. One happens when a wild animal decides to live in a built-up area.

“They evaluate the risks and they think the benefits are better. They also know they can escape if they want to,” she said.

The other kind is confining animals where they can’t escape, like a zoo. An animal’s behaviour adapts to its surroundings.

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The government didn’t check if the bears were fit and habituated before their release, Smeeton said.

“Their main thing is that our bears were habituated. They never came here, they never observed them, they didn’t know this for a fact. It’s a theory, merely,” Smeeton said.

“I truly believe that the government is not behind in any way, shape or form — no matter what they say — the work of wildlife rehabilitation, which is a great shame,” she said.

The black bear who died on July 1, 2019 is pictured in July 2018.
The black bear who died on July 1, 2019 is pictured in July 2018. Courtesy: Cochrane Ecological Institute

Traps were set out on the night before the bears’ release.

“[This bear] went to check out the traps,” Smeeton said. “He didn’t go to check out the guy who was standing on the other side of the fence behind the trap.”
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Release process

Sinclair said it’s common practice for the bears to be released separately.

“In the wild, they wouldn’t stay together after that point, so they released them separately so they’re not competing for common food sources,” she said.

The release involves a health check, gauging the bears’ interest in people, tranquilization and culvert traps, Sinclair said.

READ MORE: Orphaned bear cubs prepare for winter hibernation at Cochrane rehab centre

The bears were supposed to be released last fall, but bad weather hampered those efforts.

“We elected to hold over the release until the spring when the snow is gone, essentially, because we thought they would have a better chance of long-term survival,” Sinclair said.

WATCH: A pair of orphaned black bears eat and play fight during their time at the Cochrane Ecological Institute​ in 2018. They were released into the wild on June 20, 2019. One was shot and killed on July 1, 2019 after getting too close to children.

Bears eat, play fight during their rehabilitation at Cochrane Ecological Institute
Bears eat, play fight during their rehabilitation at Cochrane Ecological Institute

Smeeton disagreed.

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If the release was during winter and hibernation, it would have increased their survival odds, she said.

“Then it wakes up and it has its familiar box with it but it’s in a new world,” Smeeton said.

“What we would like to have been able to do with these bears would be to let them hibernate in November and then take them out in the hibernating box, which is built and everything, and put them in a previously researched release site.”

READ MORE: Orphaned bear cubs will stay in Alberta facility this winter

She is not sure why the bears were released separately.

“Those two were raised together. We don’t know what impact it had splitting them up,” Smeeton said.

Smeeton said the bear could have been on the move because of grizzly pressure or being split up from his sister.