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Orphaned bear cub found near Dawson Creek, euthanized after rescue attempt

The incident has some wildlife experts wondering if a change in policy might help the conservation office avoid conflicts with the public.
Bear cub

A Dawson Creek area family who tried to rescue a black bear May 6, are reeling from the experience which ended with the cub being euthanized because of its "poor physical condition," according to the BC Conservation Office.

Tiana Jackson, who lives about 50 kilometres outside of the city, said in a Facebook post that she found the bear laying on a gravel road near her house. She phoned the RCMP and was connected to the conservation office. 

"The conservation officer was about two hours away," she wrote, so Jackson phoned her brother  and he and his wife came to help. 

"We decided to catch the baby cub before it was lost… we knew it would starve to death," she wrote. 

The family brought the bear back to Jackson's home where they gave it food and water.

Her fiancé was able to contact Angelika Langen of the Northern Lights Wildlife Society rehabilitation centre in Smithers. 

"We told them that we did (have room) and that we already have cubs of this year so it wouldn't be a problem," Langen told the Dawson Creek Mirror. "We also told (her) that the decision whether or not a cub comes to rehab is up to the conservation officers."

Langen said she was later informed by the conservation office that the cub was put down after it was deemed unfit for travel to Smithers. Officers had checked the area for reports of a mother being killed by a vehicle or by hunters, but found none, she said.

Jackson said the ordeal left her and her family rattled. 

"This was an absolutely horrifying experience that will break my heart and the hearts of my family who witnessed this tragedy for a long time," Jackson wrote. 

She described trying to use her body as a shield between the officer and the bear, crying and begging him to take the bear to rehab.

"Conservation officers are put out on the line and put out to the public as these horrible people but we work with them all the time and they're good people. They always get the short end of the stick." - Langen

"Unfortunately our officers are faced with making a number of difficult decisions," Chris Doyle, deputy chief of provincial operations with the BC Conservation Office said. "The officer in the field made the assessment based on what he saw with the bear's behaviour… its mobility and its physical condition. The decision was made that the most humane thing to do would be to euthanize it. The animal wasn't moving as would be expected of a wild animal. It could be because of the length of time it was separated from the (mother) or it could have been a symptom of disease."

Jackson said that description doesn't jive with what she witnessed. 

"It was moving a little slow," she told the Mirror. "But it was very social and feisty. The cub seemed content and relieved to be in a safe place. He was very curious about us, very adorable and far from unresponsive."

Langen, a 26-year veteran of animal rehabilitation said determining whether a wild animal is healthy isn't always black and white.

"What might look like something that is easy to fix for us, might be more complicated — and something that might seem really bad is easily fixable at times," she said. "Conservation officers are put out on the line and put out to the public as these horrible people but we work with them all the time and they're good people. They always get the short end of the stick."

Jackson said she plans on filing a formal complaint with the BC Conservation Office. 

"I am willing to fight," she said. 

She also said she felt bad for the officer involved, but wished he had behaved differently. 

"(They) need better protocols so they don't have to be (mean)," she added. "He knew he was going to kill the cub, but he really didn't need to tell me that. He could have come and got it and just said 'thank you for trying to help.'"

Langen suggested a change in policy that leaves the decision to euthanize up to veterinarians, rather than conservation officers, might ease conflicts with the public. 

"I do sympathize with Tiana," Langen said. "It's always hard when we run into those situations and you want the outcome to be different but, I think a policy change to involve a veterinarian would satisfy both sides and create a lot less conflict."

The BC Conservation Office encourages the public to leave orphaned wildlife alone. 

In a public update on human-wildlife conflicts last week, Doyle reiterated this point. 

"We're asking people to leave wildlife alone in general," he said. "Don't pick up orphaned wildlife. Leave those animals alone."

As of April 1, there have been about 1,400 human-wildlife conflicts province-wide. In all of 2015, there were over 15,000 conflicts reported to the conservation office.

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