With spring upon us, black bears are beginning to emerge from hibernation – and are looking for food. “Essentially, bears spend the winter fasting,” says BC SPCA animal welfare educator Meghann Cant. “By the time they wake up, they have lost up to a third of their body weight.”
For hungry bears just out of the den, human foods – like those found in compost piles and garbage bins – are an attractive option. “Human foods are rich in calories and, compared to natural foods, require less time and energy to obtain,” explains Cant. “As a bear, why spend hours grazing on grass when you can simply knock over a garbage can and get all the calories you need from a few leftovers?”
The problem? Eating human foods brings bears and people closer together. “There is potential for conflict whenever bears are drawn into urban areas by human foods,” says Cant. Over time, bears may lose their natural fear of humans, and actually come to associate people with food – with serious consequences. “Although the risk of injury from a black bear is minimal, the fact is the risk exists,” says Cant. “Hundreds of ‘problem’ bears are destroyed by Conservation Officers every year as a result.” Given the danger faced by people and by black bears, human-bear conflicts deserve our very close attention. Relocation is not often a humane solution either.
Fortunately, conflicts can be reduced by following these tips:
- Keep garbage and recycling secured in the house, garage or shed until pick-up day;
- Clean garbage and recycling bins regularly;
- Bring pet food dishes inside;
- Cover kitchen scraps in the compost with dry leaves or dried grass clippings;
- Avoid overloading the compost with fruit waste by freezing it and adding it gradually;
- Turn compost regularly, and keep compost bins covered;
- Work with neighbours to create a bear-aware neighbourhood.
The key, says Cant, is to change our own behaviour and prevent bears from gaining access to human foods in the first place. “Then, and only then, can we learn to coexist with black bears to help make B.C. a safer place for the both of us.”
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.