Montreal animal lovers are furious after a bear spotted roaming around the West Island over the weekend was safely captured after several hours, only to be euthanized by government officials.
When the bear was seen in Dorval on Sunday afternoon, it caused quite a stir. Police had asked people to stay indoors as they responded to 911 calls about the bear. Many area residents, including Lorena Lathuilleri, couldn’t resist going to check it out with her children and husband.
“It was great, I got so excited,” Lathuilleri said.
She took video of the bear jumping over a fence with officials in tow.
William Weston, 22, snapped photos of the bear in his neighbour’s backyard with tranquillizer darts sticking out of its side.
“We had eyes like saucers, you know. We just couldn’t believe it,” Weston told Global News.
After several tense hours, police officers, firefighters, volunteers from a private organization called Sauvetage Animal Rescue and agents from Quebec’s Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks managed to immobilize the bear and get it into a cage.
“I was happy, because they were trying to keep him safe,” said Lathuilleri.
Eric Dussault, Sauvetage Animal Rescue’s operations director, said all those on site were collaborating to try to capture the bear safely.
“Everyone was in the mode of, ‘Let’s save this bear,'” he recounted.
He says agents from the ministry took the bear away, promising to release it back into the wild.
“We were on Cloud 9,” he said.
Dussault explained that Sauvetage Animal Rescue volunteers and police officers took photos together and patted each other on the back for a job well done getting the bear out of the area without killing it.
The bad news came a day later.
“I was frustrated, disappointed, bitter,” Dussault said. “I really couldn’t understand, and I still can’t understand.”
In an email to Global News the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks defended its decision to euthanize the bear.
Officials feared if released into the wild, the bear would return to a residential area.
The risk of recurrence was deemed high because the animal did not exhibit fear going near a noisy and very urban environment, threatening the safety of residents.
“I think that’s a poor excuse, honestly,” said Weston. “I don’t necessarily believe them. I’m not really sure why they chose to do that.”
Lathuillerie said her whole family was devastated when they heard the news.
“There had to be other solutions for this. He could be placed in a zoo, the Ecomuseum. Why do you have to kill a baby bear?” she said.
According to Dussault, multiple animal refuges were prepared to take it in. He is furious that hours of collaborative effort by his volunteers, police officers and other first responders went to waste.
He said even if releasing it into the wild was the only option, he wonders why officials wouldn’t just drive it far away from populated areas.
“It’s money, it’s gas, it’s mileage, it’s salaries. It’s overtime paid to people on a long weekend,” he said, accusing the ministry of being bogged down by bureaucracy.
He said ministry officials took hours to show up on the scene, while his volunteers arrived within 15 minutes. They had to wait to intervene because the law says only the ministry can do so in the case of a bear.
“When the ministry can’t respond faster than that, there’s a problem,” he said, pointing to his organization’s limited budget based on donations compared to that of the provincial government.
When the bear was captured, he said ministry officials joined in on the celebration, commending him and all those present on the safe capture of the bear.
The ministry, for its part, said it dispatched a wildlife protection officer from Salaberry-de-Valleyfied to the scene immediately after being alerted by Montreal police. Two other agents went to collect equipment needed for the operation before arriving on site.
“It was a complex operation,” the ministry said, adding the bear was nervous due to the noise and presence of many rescuers and observers, including police, firemen, media outlets and curious residents.
As for sending the bear to a refuge, government officials said it wasn’t a viable option.
Refuges are meant to be temporary homes for animals who are orphaned or injured, until such a time when they can be released back into the wild, the ministry said.
While many believed the bear to be a cub, the ministry said it was in fact a sub-adult of about one and half years old. Subadults are independent from their mother but have not yet reached sexual maturity.
The role of the refuge, the ministry continued, is mainly to rehabilitate animals but there’s always the risk that they will get habituated to humans.
“Releasing an animal that has lost its fear of humans can pose a risk to human safety when it is a predator like the bear,” the statement reads.
Furthermore, bears are animals with a large home range, and they don’t tend to coexist with humans.
“Life in captivity is not an optimal solution for these animals and could seriously affect their well-being,” the ministry said, adding those are the main reasons it didn’t consider relocating the animal to a zoo either.
An online petition is now circulating, demanding the resignation of Pierre Dufour, Quebec’s minister of forests, wildlife and parks. It had nearly 2,000 signatures as of this writing.
— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier