Kentucky Biologists Euthanize Three Bears

Moorhead News, Bear Hunting Magazine

The third bear euthanized in Kentucky by department biologists in less than two months happened earlier this week.

Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources were forced to euthanize a 480-pound black bear this week after it exhibited unacceptable behaviors of habituation to people. It occurred after the bear allowed a woman and small child to approach within four feet of it at Kingdom Come State Park in Harlan County.

Another 190-pound, 10-year-old female bear that approached people in campsites, bluffed them away from state park picnic tables and ate the abandoned food was euthanized April 19. That event occurred just one day after a 220-pound male bear was put down near Prestonsburg after exhibiting the same food-conditioned behaviors.

Situations like these are unfortunate, but entirely preventable, said Steven Dobey, black bear biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. People must learn that the intentional, or unintentional, feeding of bears creates behaviors that are not acceptable for such powerful animals. 

Wildlife biologists say people feeding bears are condemning the animals to a bleak end. When bears are allowed to feed from garbage cans and dumpsters, or especially when fed on purpose, they inevitably lose their natural fear of humans, said Dobey. Most people simply do not realize how fast and strong these animals are. Bears are opportunistic feeders and those that have been feeding around people are looking for the easy food theyve come to expect. However, these are wild animals and their tolerant behavior can change in an instant.

Black bears are native to Kentucky, but their numbers dropped significantly about a century ago due to logging and unregulated hunting. Bears have been returning to a largely reforested east Kentucky for the past two decades. And as their numbers are now growing steadily, people enjoy watching them.

However, people who leave food out so that they can see the bears are creating a problem. People are signing the bears death warrant, said Dobey. When a bears diet consists of easy pickings left out by people who simply want to watch it or take its picture, it begins to associate people with food instead of listening to a natural instinct to avoid them.

Thats when they approach homes, populated picnic areas, and open garbage dumpsters, he said. While it can be a tough decision to euthanize a bear for another persons irresponsible actions, it is human safety that is our ultimate concern in these situations.

Department personnel sometimes trap and relocate bears exhibiting nuisance behaviors, but relocated bears often find their way back to the original site or continue their nuisance behavior in a different area. When it becomes clear that their behavior threatens human safety, the bear will be destroyed.

It is illegal to feed bears in Kentucky. Persons doing so can be cited.

We hope to get the message out that feeding bears only encourages behavior that will require us to kill them, said Dobey. Weve had to kill three this spring already. And in all three instances it was because they were fed by people.

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