Polar bear experts say killing animal in Quebec was necessary, common practice


A polar bear found roaming the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec over the weekend had to be shot rather than moved, wildlife experts said Monday.

Government officials did not have the proper equipment or tranquilizers to handle the 650-pound animal, Sylvain Marois of Quebec’s Wildlife Department said in an interview.

“We’re equipped for black bears, moose, but a polar bear is twice the size of a black bear,” Marois said.

The bear was killed for public safety, he said, after it was spotted Saturday in a wooded area near the town of Madeleine-Centre, Quebec, located about 580 kilometers northeast of Quebec, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence. River.

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Wildlife officials say they don’t know where the bear came from, but Ian Stirling, one of the world’s leading experts on polar bears and an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, said the bear’s large size suggests it had been feeding. the South Labrador Sea, where food is plentiful.

“There’s only one place he could get this big so soon,” Stirling said in an interview Monday. “Everywhere else in the Arctic they’re usually a bit thin – but this one was really big.”

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He said the bear most likely ended up in Gaspé by swimming to the peninsula or floating south on a piece of Newfoundland ice. It’s completely normal, Stirling explained, for polar bears, especially males, to roam and explore.

“Although few bears find their way to the unstable edge of the pack ice, those that manage to penetrate this general area feed very well and gain a lot of weight in a short time,” he said.

“When the ice breaks up and the harp seals head back out to sea, most bears return north along the Labrador coast, onto the inshore ice and spend the summer (open water) season there,” said Stirling. “However, some men, often subadults, haven’t figured out their directions yet, or maybe they’re just walking around.”

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Professor Andrew Derocher, also from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, is currently in Churchill, Manitoba, conducting fieldwork on polar bears. He said bears “really have no place in Gaspé.”

“People are very much in love with polar bears,” Derocher said in an interview Monday. “It comes back to this idea of ​​beauty and the beast. They are beautiful to look at, but they are incredibly scary. And because they’re so far away, you can focus on beauty. But when all of a sudden it’s in your garden, then it becomes the beast and it’s no longer welcome.

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He said it is standard procedure to kill polar bears that wander into areas they are not used to.

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“Knowing what the wildlife officer has as equipment and the logistics of that, you have to get the bear, restrain it until you get a cage strong enough to contain it and put it on a plane to fly it somewhere in Labrador and then let it go. That would have been a very expensive operation,” Derocher said.

Derocher, however, said the cost of relocating a bear shouldn’t be the only concern, adding that killing a polar bear, from a population conservation perspective, is never ideal.

Canadian polar bears, which make up two-thirds of the estimated global population, are listed as vulnerable species in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Habitat is disappearing,” Derocher said. “What’s happening is that the pack ice isn’t as robust as it used to be; the animals detach themselves, move away from where they want to be. We see these random events happening across the polar bear range. »

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