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No more handouts for grow-op bears
To the relief of a man who claims to be their self-appointed caregiver, the domesticated bears that were found roaming around a grow-op in Christina Lake, B.C., have been granted a reprieve.
Instead of destroying the bears, Environment Minister Barry Penner says they are working to wean them off dog food handouts until they go into hibernation for the winter. When they awake in spring, conservation officers hope the bears will return to their natural foraging routine. As is, the bears' dependence on humans is a threat to the public, and therefore the bears.
The bears were originally discovered about a month ago by RCMP during a raid on a Christina Lake grow-op. They were found roaming like friendly pets among the marijuana plants on the 28-hectare property, so tame that one even lounged on a police car. Police suspected the bears were being used -- albeit ineffectively -- to guard the operation.
However, a neighbour named Allen Piche claims the bears were not guarding the grow-op, and he has been acting as their caregiver for years. Piche released an online video Monday that Penner described as "disturbing." In it, Piche says 24 bears "co-habitate" with him but are free to leave. He also says he's been feeding them for a decade. The video shows Piche feeding the bears large buckets of dry dog food and cuddling a tame raccoon.
"The neighbours have had no problems in the 10 years I've been doing this," he says in the video. "I'm working with conservation (officers) for a happy ending."
That happy ending, says Penner, would be for Piche and others to stop feeding the bears entirely. However, conservation officers don't want the bears cut off "cold turkey" because they might panic, get angry and threaten public safety, says Penner. The plan instead is to slowly wean them off food over the next six weeks, as the weather turns cold and the bears go in search of hibernation dens. The people feeding them are then expected to cut them off for good.
"It's a real conundrum," says Penner. "We've never seen anything like this number of bears so very habituated to people. They seem to be dependent on these handouts. Of course, the last thing the conservation officers want to do is pull the trigger and put down these bears. It's not the bears' fault that someone was dumb enough to feed them deliberately."
People feeding the bears are under investigation, said Penner, and could still be charged under the Wildlife Act for feeding the bears in the first place.
"This is a very unusual situation," he adds. "It's necessitated an unusual solution – this is not something we would normally do."