Blaze, a mother bear who was killed -- not euthanized -- by park employees in Yellowstone National Park after she killed and partially ate an intruding human, has become the "poster bear" for all that is wrong with killing a mother with young cubs at her side (for details please see "Yellowstone Regrettably Kills Blaze, the Mother Bear Who Attacked an Off-Trail Hiker"). Of course, there are major and yet unanswered questions about why Blaze was killed whether or not she had cubs, and many people are trying to get to the bottom of this heinous decision.
Will Blaze kill again?
One question that comes up quite often is, "Will Blaze kill again?" There is no evidence that bears who kill once are destined to become killers, and a spokesperson for the park agrees. In a comment posted by Arian Wallach to my essay called "Yellowstone Kills Blaze, a Bear Who Attacked Off-Trail Hiker" she offers the following exchange:
Cathy Brown: Yellowstone National Park - can you please direct us to studies that support the claim that once a bear tastes human flesh they will become threats to humans and become dangerous to humans? Thank you.
Yellowstone National Park: We don't know of any formal studies showing that predatory attacks will be repeated: most land management agencies remove bears that consume people due to safety concerns. Allowing a bear that ate a person to live would be negligent. Bears do not normally view humans as food. A bear that views humans as food is an unreasonable hazard: waiting for more people to die before taking action is an unacceptable risk.
Note that the spokesperson begins, "We don't know of any formal studies showing that predatory attacks will be repeated..." Nonetheless, in an essay in the Washington Post we read,
"There are certainly people that have a hard time with the decision to euthanize the bear and that includes some of our biologists and park rangers," Campbell [Julena Campbell, a Yellowstone spokeswoman] told The Post. 'We don't get into the profession for that reason, but we have to make the decision for sound science and putting the safety of humans first. We can't favor one individual bear over protecting the lives of humans.'"
As I've previously written, appealing to the notion of "sound science" is a decoy that might make some people think that science supports killing the bears, and it would be nice to know how killing these bears will protect humans in the future. Just where are the data that support the idea that killing animal suspects who are responsible, or thought to be responsible, is the remedy for the very rare occurrences of killing humans in Yellowstone? I surely can't find any support for this claim, and the database hardly seems large enough to draw any meaningful conclusions that are often used as excuses to kill the suspects.
What about Blaze's surviving cubs? Killing mom is also "killing" her babies
Blaze's two surviving cubs are supposed to go to the Toledo Zoo. It frankly amazed me at how fast this decision was made after Blaze was killed, because it's not easy to find zoos that want bears, it takes a lot of work to keep bears in captivity, and the Toledo Zoo hasn't had a resident brown bear in more than 30 years.
If the cubs wind up there, and I hope they don't, will the zoo inform visitors as to why the cubs are there -- mom was killed because she killed someone who trespassed into her territory -- and will they stress that there are dangers when venturing into the places where wild and potentially dangerous animals live and humans have to take responsibility for their actions? Of course, the entire scenario is a horrific tragedy for both the human and the bears, and I'm surely sorry it ever happened.
Blaze and her cubs are "poster bears" for other "wild" animals
Blaze and her cubs have become "poster bears" for bears and other "wild" animals. There is huge international resistance to moving Blaze's cubs to the Toledo (or any) zoo, and numerous petitions with hundreds of thousands signatures asking for the bears to be sent for rehabilitation and then released into the wild (this petition has more than 194,000 signatures).
Some of the issues at hand are discussed in an essay by noted writer, Todd Wilkinson, for National Geographic online called "What's Next For the Orphaned Cubs of Dead Grizzly?" Of course, Blaze was not euthanized, and a number of people have written to me about the comments made by some zoo administrators about what a "good life" the cubs will have behind bars in Toledo. For example, "Hogle Zoo spokesperson Erica Hansen says the trio [of grizzlies] seems perfectly contented. They are in good health, frolic and play, and according to staff veterinarians, don't appear to suffer from any overt neuroses. 'They have been awesome exhibit animals and crowd favorites,' Hansen says." And yes, they do generate money.
It also is essential to point out how rare are these sorts of fatal encounters. Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, wrote, "It amazes me that there are so few incidents like Blaze, which only demonstrates how remarkably tolerant of human intrusion grizzlies and other wildlife are."
You can read a more detailed discussion about Blaze and other grizzlies in an essay by renowned author and naturalist Doug Peacock called "Do Killer Grizzlies Deserve Death?" Mr. Peacock notes, "The lives of the endangered species are about to get even cheaper" and "With the cavalier, deadly treatment of this particular grizzly family, Yellowstone's bear management policy already seems to have begun the transition to delisting. Grizzly lives are cheap and are about to get cheaper." It's not a good time to be a "wild" grizzly, and surely not a good time to be a grizzly who is trying to avoid humans and to protect her young. I put the word "wild" in quotation marks, because we really need to pay attention to the blatant fact that being wild does not mean being free to live the sort of life that typifies a member of a given species.
Let the cubs go free: Life is tough behind bars
Killing Blaze is tantamount to killing her cubs. Zoo administrators like to note that bears (and other zoo residents) can live long and cushy lives in cages, however that is not what it is like to be a grizzly. Let them be returned to the wild.
I know people will quibble about returning the cubs to the wild even after they are rehabilitated. Some will argue it's a "death sentence" because they are not prepared to be on their own. Others will counter that being condemned to live in a small cage for years on end also is a "death sentence." Life is "tough out there," but life also is very tough behind bars, and it's difficult to argue that a life in a cage is a "good life" especially when there are other alternatives at hand. A recent paper published in the Journal of Wildlife Management by John Beecham and an international team of researchers called "Management implications for releasing orphaned, captive-reared bears back to the wild" concluded, "Our analyses reduce many of the uncertainties surrounding the fate of bears released as yearlings and provide evidence that releasing captive-reared bears is a defensible management alternative."
While I'm deeply saddened that a human was killed and that Blaze was then killed in retaliation, Blaze and her cubs' story has galvanized numerous people around the world to reconsider what we do to other animals and how often they pay the price for their doing what they've evolved to do. Killing Blaze knowing she had cubs raises all kinds of very challenging questions, and I hope her death, and the fate of her children -- the cubs were her children -- will get more and more people to consider the somewhat daunting questions at hand.
I also hope more and more people will get involved and allow "wild" animals to be as wild as they can be in a human-dominated world. And, I hope more and more people will take responsibility for what humans are doing to countless other animals and how we are compromising their lives to the point where they can't be the beings who they are supposed to be.
Just say no: The killing really needs to stop
Wouldn't it be nice if park authorities, or those who are sent out to kill "problem" animals, simply say, "No thanks," as did Bryce Casavant, a most courageous conservation officer who refused to kill two black bear cubs near Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island. The killing really needs to stop.
That's not really asking too much, is it?