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Police Chief: "Don't Feed The Bears"

Bear B-1 wasn't our buddy. She wasn't a cartoon character named Yogi. She was a bear who became habituated to people in Madison and our food. She was killed after she showed aggression in pursuit of our food.

 

Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm had this to say about bears Tuesday:

"Don't feed them. Don't encourage them," said Drumm, who added he was sad to hear that the female yearling tagged as B-1, after becoming used to humans and eating food sources from and near humans, was deemed aggressive by state wildlife experts, and had to be killed.

Drumm added that a published report in a regional newspaper implying that Madison police characterized the bear's recent behavior as a "reign of terror," was not accurate. The full text of the Madison Police Department's statement about the bear's capture is posted with this article. "We did not make that statement," about a reign of terror, Drumm said.

Concern about B-1's behavior, grief and anger about her death

. Bear B-1 was captured, tranquilized, and then shot Sunday by the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection.

After being born in central Connecticut about a year and a half ago, she spent the last few months traveling along interior portions of the shoreline that were wooded, from Clinton to Guilford. She settled in North Madison recently and began to exhibit aggressive behavior towards humans when she was seeking food sources from and near humans.

She charged one homeowner who was working inside his home near a window, even though there was no food immediately nearby. She growled at someone taking out their garbage, and she chased someone who tried to get her to go away by honking his car horn.

Nicknamed Yogi, eating pineapple, while a human tries to chat her up

YouTube videos posted of Bear B-1 in North Madison show people talking at the bear while she was eating, including one clip that showed a man talking at the bear while she was eating some pineapple on what appears to be the border of someone's lawn in a residential area. In several of the clips posted on YouTube, people call Bear B-1  "buddy," make kissing sounds toward it, and say that she had been nicknamed Yogi by some North Madison residents. Yogi is a fictional cartoon character bear who claimed to be "smarter than the average bear."

"How's that pineapple, buddy? How's that pineapple?" the man taking the YouTube video says. The bear then rushes at the man taking the video, covering the ground between them in seconds. The man starts to swear and retreats into what appears to be his car.

The video was uploaded about six days ago by someone who identifies himself as a 35-year-old man going by the nickname "Ali Cat" on YouTube.

Not Yogi, just an average bear until she got used to human food

"To try to talk with the bear, to try to befriend the bear, to act as if the bear is a cartoon character, no, people should not be doing this," said Paul Rego, a wildlife biologist with the state of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection.

DEEP had also received unconfirmed reports that at least one resident had been intentionally feeding the bear. DEEP officials have said that when a bear is intentionally or unintentionally fed, it begins to associate food with people and loses its fear of humans. In addition to becoming habituated to humans, Bear B-1 also showed aggression towards humans, which led to the decision by state wildlife officials that she had to be euthanized.

Rego said that, in the fall, bears need more food than ever as they prepare for hibernation. "This is definitely a time of year when they are focused on eating," he said.

Stay away from bears, do not interact with them, make sure they are not finding food nearby

Rego said he was aware of the fact that many in North Madison had been taking pictures of the bear and documenting her movements. He said as long as people stay a long way away from bears and do not interact with them, he did not take issue with that.

"I think what's more important is whether the bear is finding food near homes, and particularly whether it's finding human-provided food like bird feed and trash," he said.

When people talk with a bear while it is feeding, that poses a conflict for the bear, he said, most of whom are normally shy of humans and the sound of humans.

Sometimes desire for food is greater than their fear of humans

"It's kind of like the bear is being pulled in two directions," he said. "Naturally, bears don't want to go anywhere near people, and naturally they are really focused on finding food. So when they find food and there happens to be a disturbance nearby, sometimes their desire for food is great enough that they will ignore that there are people nearby. And the process can continue until bears are quite habituated towards people and they don't have a fear of people like they should."

So if a bear is nearby and eating trash, should people try to scare it away?

Rego said if scaring the bear away by talking or making a loud noise works quickly, that's fine. But if talking at the bear doesn't work quickly, it's best to wait until the bear leaves and then make sure that whatever was attracting the bear is removed.

But, again, he said don't try to make friends with the bear or make the mistake of thinking it's a harmless cartoon character.

"The worst thing you can do is feed them"

"It's the worst thing you can do," said CT DEEP spokesman Dwayne Gardner, about feeding bears. "If you love bears, if you love wildlife, the worst thing you can do is feed them. It only will end up costing them in the end."

Rego said that the state DEEP handles a dozen or more bears each year that become a nuisance, but that are not aggressive towards humans. If they are a nuisance and are not showing aggression, they are considered potential candidates for aversive conditioning, in which their natural fear of humans is reinforced after they are trapped and released nearby.

Rego and other state officials said it is not possible and not prudent to capture a bear and release it far away from its indigenous habitat. He said the small size of Connecticut, along with its high population density, means that state wildlife officials have only limited options when dealing with a problem bear that is aggressive towards humans in pursuit of food.

Not allowed to move bears to other states, zoos have enough bears

"We are not allowed to move bears to other states," he said. "And, if a bear does have some sort of problem behavior, moving it a long distance and putting it in someone else's backyard does not make sense. Associated with that, it's very common for bears to return to the neighborhood from where they are taken."

And putting problem bears in zoos is generally not an option either, he said.

"The zoos have enough bears," Rego said.

Still sedated when shot

Rego said he was not present when the bear was euthanized over the weekend, but he said the general practice of the state DEEP is to shoot the bear while it is still tranquilized. Bear B-1 was trapped in a tube trap on Sunday evening, tranquilized, and taken to Burlington, CT, where she was shot. State officials said a necropsy would be done to determine the bear's characteristics and health at the time of her death.

"I believe it was" still sedated when shot, Rego said.

"I would also make the point that every year we handle dozens of bears associated with some type of conflict with humans," Rego said. "It's very rare that bears have done something that we deem them such a public safety conflict that a bear has to be put down. We do regularly handle bears and we do capture and release bears. It is very rare that one is killed."

"This bear was aggressive"

"We put a lot of effort into aversive conditioning, where we trap bears and during the release process we basically try to re-instill the fear of humans hoping it changes their behavior and saves them from being euthanized."

"It was judged that this bear showed aggression towards humans," he said. "Some people disagree. But, for any person that has experience and knowledge of bears, this bear was aggressive. I don't believe that anybody who has responsibility for bears would feel comfortable releasing this bear back into an area where people are, and that's all of Connecticut."

"I can't imagine any neighborhood, any community, or any town officials who would be willing to have that bear released in their town."

Here is a release from the CT DEEP about Connecticut bears:

The bear population in Connecticut continues to grow and expand.

The population is currently estimated at approximately 500 bears, increasing the need for people to know how to prevent problems.  In 2011, the DEEP received nearly 3,000 bear sighting reports from 122 of Connecticut’s 169 towns.

The DEEP encourages residents to take the following simple steps to avoid problems with black bears:

  • NEVER feed bears.
  • Take down, clean, and put away birdfeeders by late March.  Store the feeders until late fall.
  • Clean up spilled seed from the ground.
  • Store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or storage area.  Double bagging and adding ammonia to cans and bags will reduce odors that attract bears.  Periodically clean garbage cans with ammonia to reduce residual odor.  Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before.
  • Avoid leaving pet food outdoors at night.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed.
  • Avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods in compost piles.
  • Protect beehives, livestock, and berry bushes from bears with electric fencing.
  • Supervise dogs at all times when outside.  Keep dogs on a leash when walking and hiking.  A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.

 


It is important to remember that although black bears regularly travel near houses, they are rarely aggressive toward humans and can usually be frightened away by making loud noises, throwing sticks, or spraying with a garden hose.  In the rare instance when a bear appears to be aggressive toward people, residents should contact the DEEP Wildlife Division’s Sessions Woods office at

860-675-8130 (Mon.-Fri. from 8:30 AM-4:30 PM) or the DEEP’s 24-hour dispatch line (860-424-3333) during weekends and non-business hours.

Bear sightings reported by the public provide valuable information to assist the DEEP Wildlife Division in monitoring the black bear population.  Anyone who observes a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on the DEEP’s Web site.

George September 04, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Let's not overlook Connecticut requires barriers around swimming pools.
Lucinda Pinchot September 04, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Anyone who fed the bear is an idiot and contrributed to her death. The statement that the bear was "in pursuit our food" is ridiculous, the citizens in Madison were never at risk for loosing food from the bear. I disagree with the decision to kill the bear, it was an over-reaction, a simple solution to a complex problem. Stupid humans.
Matt September 04, 2012 at 10:26 PM
All of this is good information. The only thing that DEEP hasn't explained, which I think is what everyone wants to know, is why adverse conditioning was not an option? In their initial response, they indicated that adverse conditioning and relocation was their best option. Killing her was the last resort. Upon actually executing their plan, it seems it was the other way around. Action was required based on her behavior. In my opinion, that much is not up for debate and couldn't be more obvious. How they went about deciding Plan A vs Plan B I think DEEP should explain better. I am not in a position to debate with DEEP about death vs relocation/conditioning. Neither is anybody else that will respond in this comment section. Unless someone responding happens to be a biologist specializing in bears in CT, which is unlikely. Nobody likes how it ended. But I'm not blindly assuming it was wrong just because nobody likes it. I would just like to hear what the decision process was. Hopefully others who respond to this article can keep their emotions a little more under control than the past article.
Dan September 04, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Who's leaving pineapples lying around?
Pem McNerney (Editor) September 04, 2012 at 10:52 PM
I saw a video on YouTube not too long ago. Three baby bears had climbed into a dumpster and could not climb back out. Mama bear was standing nearby, outside the dumpster. Someone pulled up in a pickup truck--with a kid in the bed of the truck--and backed up to the dumpster and the kid put a step ladder into the dumpster. The truck pulled away. The three baby bears climbed up the ladder and out of the dumpster and they all walked away, to the cheers of people videotaping the action. Here's what mama bear did when the truck pulled up with people in it (even though they were approaching her baby bears) ... she retreated into the woods. When the truck pulled away, she came back out of the woods. Bear B-1 rushed at the not-smarter-than-the-average-bear guy who was chatting her up about the pineapple. She rushed at the guy who was videotaping her from inside his house (no food involved). She reportedly rushed at someone who honked a horn at her. She growled at another homeowner. That's aggressive behavior. So that's a long way of saying that Rego said today B-1 ultimately was not a candidate for averse training because she exhibited aggressive behavior. And I think he's right that there isn't a town in Connecticut that would want her relocated there. It makes me sick that she was killed. And I understand and support the decision of the DEEP. I wouldn't want her around the kids in my neighborhood (think lunchboxes and bus stops) or any neighborhood.
Pem McNerney (Editor) September 04, 2012 at 10:57 PM
And remember, this is a bear that traveled from Windsor to Madison and from Guilford to Clinton. So that's about 45 miles in one direction, and 10 in the other ... so if she was dropped anywhere in Connecticut, there would likely be a lot of neighborhoods in her range, with the kind of food she was used to seeking. And CT DEEP does not relocate out of CT, because dropping bears out of their indigenous habitat is not considered good wildlife management practice.
Pem McNerney (Editor) September 04, 2012 at 11:06 PM
As for people who deliberately feed bears .... don't even get me started. I had no idea there were people like that and am not even sure how you would address that. As for people who left bird feeders out and garbage unsecured, I hope they understand now why they shouldn't. People who have bears nearby, and love them, should work with homeowner groups and neighborhood groups to make sure people understand how important that is. A public education campaign every spring would be a great idea. And, for those who want to take it to this level, getting involved with the DEEP to better understand their process, and working with them to find out if there is a better way, if there is one, would be a good step too.
Matt September 04, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Ah, ok. I thought that might be it but wasn't sure if that is what he meant. Given that the aggressive behavior is rather obvious, and given that I'm not a biologist to argue that there was a better way, I guess it is what is. Sucks for the bear. Sucks for the people who liked the bear. It was a bad situation, which had an inevitable bad ending. Hopefully the people who intentionally fed her and brought about her unacceptable behavior do not repeat their actions the next time a bear moves into town. I'm sure they thought it was adorable and sweet. But it was wrong and ultimately resulted in her death. This is not giant furry pigeon.
George September 05, 2012 at 12:44 AM
I'd like to know how you are positive there was no food involved in scenario by the guy video taping from his house.
Pem McNerney (Editor) September 05, 2012 at 09:21 AM
@ George ... I'm going by what I saw in the video. The bear stops and sniffs, and does not appear to be eating. As she explores the yard, she moves toward the open window where the guy is videotaping. Only after she begins to approach does he say anything. At the sound of his voice, she does not move off, but continues to approach and then she runs at him. Also, I visited that same day. There were no bird feeders, the garbage was secure and it did not look like there were any food sources in the yard that would have attracted a bear. The video was shot from the dining room, which is used by the family to do work and homework. The father is someone who is familiar with camping and wildlife. He said he and his family have not been feeding the bear and it sounded credible to me that someone with two kids and a dog, someone who made sure they did not have a bird feeder in the yard and who made sure their garbage was secure ... would not be feeding bears. They have had bears in that yard and neighborhood before, including one huge bear. But that bear always would move off when he/she heard people. That is what this man expected would happen when Bear B-1 heard the sound of his voice. In other videos I saw posted on YouTube, where people are talking to the bear, you can see her eating garbage, or pineapple.
Alana Joli Abbott September 05, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Thanks for this follow up, Pem. I feel like I understand the decisions of the DEEP much better now, and I'm glad to know that the problems with relocation have to do with CT being densely populated and the DEEP's not being allowed to relocate to other states. The whole situation is very sad! I've appreciated your coverage.
Carrie Gazda September 05, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Too bad that DEEP felt that killing the bear was the option. How long did this bear get to roam Madison until they felt that this was the only solution? They should have removed the bear long before now and perhaps this would not have happened. How many reports and videos did we see and how long was this bear running into people taking these photo's and videos and then it becomes aggressive? Very sad. The bear should have been moved long ago.
Adrian Wisting September 05, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Respecting the Madison P.D., I still remain of the opinion that this entire situation could have been handled in a way producing a more positive/sensitive outcome. We can all learn from this awful experience. I think most people responding to this occurrence are of reasonable intelligence and fully understand the potential danger regarding B-l but I also think people need to understand and accept the consequences of their behavior, and taking into consideration the volume of outrage, it certainly indicates the situation could have been better handled. We all did not react emotionally irresponsible. Enough said. The end!
Natalie Jarnstedt September 05, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Adverse conditioning requires work - it's much easier to kill than to deal with alternatives. Killing should always be the last resort, which this obviously was not. One doesn't need to be a wildlife biologist to understand that relocation, even further than the typical 10 miles, should have been seriously given a chance. Dead is dead.
michele mackenzie September 05, 2012 at 09:36 PM
I feel I acted emotionally the way I should have. My cousin works with wildlife (including bears) in other states. He has watched the videos. Said bear was Not aggressive and did not fear people (the bears downfall sadly) and was hungry. WTNH played the video without sound making the bear seem like it was just running at the house. The man was enticing the bear. The bear fate was there before it was ever caught. They led us to believe they would try to do the right thing. I still say and will always say "Shame" on the DEEP. Enough said. The End.
Natalie Jarnstedt September 06, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Why not adverse conditioning? It works really well where it has been implemented, but, granted, it takes some work which the DEEP was not willing to do. It is of the utmost importance that residents not interact with bears, even to take cute videos or photos where food most definitely must have been involved; follow all the guidelines on how to co-exist without encouragement! It can mean life or death for the bear(s)!
Pem McNerney (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Most bears in CT will move away when they see or hear humans. This one did not. Now I think I understand better why, after seeing some of the other videos. This homeowner had no way of knowing the bear would move towards him when she became aware of his presence. He expected the bear to move off, like other bears do. When he reported the bear, his intention was to make sure his neighbors knew. After the police reported the bear to DEEP, like the rest of this, this homeowner was expecting that the bear, if anything, would be relocated. Tragic for the bear. And a very sad event for this neighborhood in North Madison, on very many levels and in very many ways. The End. (unless someone has something more to say ... )
Beach Wood September 06, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Once camping in the NH's Whit Mountains I encountered a black bear, itwas a bear roaming from campground to campground, similar size. They shot it with a few rubber bullets and it took off. Just an alternative for DEEP to consider once they hear about one getting too residential..

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