MISSOURI -- An animal sanctuary organization says it could have found a home for a nuisance black bear that Missouri game officials decided to euthanize Monday.
Scott Smith, manager of Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Ark., said he already has seven bears in captivity and couldn’t take any more.
“But if they had called me, yes, we could have found it a home,” Smith said. “We are part of a group of 21 animal sanctuaries around the country — the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries — and I could have placed that bear with one of them within an hour.”
Smith said Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge had worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation in the past taking in several bobcats. Turpentine Creek focuses mainly on large cats, but has taken in six black bears and one grizzly bear in recent years.
In an email, MDC spokesman Francis Skalicky offered this response:
“It’s not the practice of the Missouri Department of Conservation to pass problem animals on to other people,” he wrote.
“The Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t take wild animals that have become unresolvable human safety issues into captivity. Putting an animal down isn’t a step our agency takes lightly and it isn’t a preferred option. Euthanizing a problem animal is a last resort after all other options have been tried to make that animal return to the wild.”
Kellie Heckman, executive director of Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, said her organization accredits sanctuaries like Turpentine Creek to make sure they are qualified to keep and care for wild animals.
Because there are so many black bears that are taken in as pets — and their owners can no longer care for them — Heckman said it can be difficult, but not impossible, to find long-term space at a sanctuary.
“We let our organizations do a lot of that activity, contacting each other so they know who has space,” she said. “It can usually be done within hours, but with black bears it’s not always easy.”
Smith, the Turpentine Creek refuge manager, said bear and mountain lion populations are increasing in both Arkansas and Missouri, and he hoped game officials would develop a better plan to deal with nuisance animals than euthanizing them.
Why couldn’t the Christian County black bear have been shipped to a zoo or relocated somewhere deep in a forest instead of being killed?
MDC’s decision to euthanize the healthy 250-pound black bear that had been fed by humans and lost its fear of people sparked more than 160 Facebook comments — many from people upset the bear wasn’t placed in a zoo or moved elsewhere.
But according to MDC bear researcher Jeff Beringer, relocating a bear that’s become used to getting food from humans poses a lot of problems.
“We don’t want to relocate an animal that’s just going to cause another problem elsewhere,” Beringer said. “If we relocated the bear and it ended up attacking someone, it’s now our fault.”
Beringer said finding a zoo or rescue facility willing to take a wild bear could be an option, if there were any openings available.
“Generally, what we run into is that there’s no room for it,” Beringer said. “I know it’s a feel-good situation to think you can just move it to a zoo, but it’s easy to say and hard to do.”
Mike Crocker, director at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, said the zoo already has two black bears and no room to accommodate a third.
“Black bears are not a high priority item because they are so common,” Crocker said. “From a conservation standpoint, there are other species that are of more concern to protect in a zoo setting.”
Crocker said the zoo acquired its two black bears when they were very young, including one that was rescued as an orphaned cub from a Missouri farm where cattle were trying to stomp it.
Because black bears readily reproduce in captivity, Beringer said there is no shortage of captive animals for zoos.
“An animal that’s been raised in captivity will do well in captivity,” he said. “It’s hard for a wild bear that’s been roaming in the forest all its life to suddenly have to adapt to a small enclosure at a zoo. Also if this was an endangered species, we’d look at the situation differently.”
The bear that game officials euthanized had been snooping around homes in southeast Christian County, and even walked partway through an open patio door at an elderly woman’s house, looking for food, according to MDC
Beringer said complaints about the bear prompted MDC to trap the animal and put it to sleep.
Although Missouri has no laws against feeding nongame animals like bears, Beringer strongly urged people not to because it causes the animals to lose their fear of humans and associate people with an easy source of food.
“The other thing is that when there’s a nuisance bear like this people start thinking that’s what all bears do,” he said. “But that’s not what wild bears do — only the ones that have been fed.”
(News Leader - July 26, 2015)