Bears Vs. Humans
July 25, 2007 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Why do 'authorities' euthanize animals after attacking a human?

There were a few bear attacks in the rockies close to where I live. A girl was mauled by a black bear while hiking/biking. Fish and Wildlife workers and the Police hunted the bear down and shot it. I feel sorry for the girl and I couldn't imagine being attacked by a bear, but I don't understand why they have to shoot the bear if it was only doing what was natural to it. Is the bear forever 'ruined' because it now has a taste for humans? I sort of understand putting a dog down after it mauls a postal worker/child/someone, but they live with us every day. Bears don't. Could someone please explain this to me?
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya to Pets & Animals (29 answers total)
I don't think the animal necessarily has a "taste" for humans. Once an animal has shown a propensity to attack humans, the risk of it doing so again is too high to allow the animal to live. This is true as long as human life > animal life.
posted by CRS at 7:10 AM on July 25, 2007

1. The authorities are responsible for the welfare of humans, not the fluffy, cuddly bears.
2. When bears start living close to humans, and trying to eat them, something needs to be done. See (1).
posted by b1tr0t at 7:11 AM on July 25, 2007

I'm not a vet, but I believe it's also part of rabies testing, which is usually mandated after an animal attack.
posted by pupdog at 7:13 AM on July 25, 2007

Killing the bear might be extreme, but then consider the position of an elected official who decided not to kill the bear.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:17 AM on July 25, 2007

It's a public relations exercise.
posted by maryrosecook at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2007

They don't want to get sued.
posted by chickaboo at 7:21 AM on July 25, 2007

TotallyZanzibarinYa - I am not so sure that euthanizing the bears is always necessary either. In certain circumstances, I have heard of them relocating the animal to a less public location... I found this site regarding the topic that you are speaking to be interesting.

I think the issue is the location that the animal attacks, what department has jurisdiction or authority over the matter and area, and what organizations become involved. Some people just aren't interested in fighting for the animals and may lose anyhow.

Personally, if I were attacked by a bear (and I have never been so this is a skewed opinion) I would not want the bear to perish.
posted by NotInTheBox at 7:24 AM on July 25, 2007

It's easier to kill the bear than to try and figure out the root cause. Plus, as has been mentioned earler, you need to kill the bear and cut its head off to determine if it's cause by rabies. Like Highlander, there can be only one: Bears or Humans.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:45 AM on July 25, 2007

I worked for a vet in NY when I was in high school. Most often unowned/unclaimed animals who bit a human were euthanized so that their head could be sent away for rabies testing, so that if the animal was positive for rabies, the person could be treated immediately.

Some pets were mandated to be euthanized. When they were mandated to be euthanized, a rabies test was always required. This could be done by sending the head, or by putting them in confinement for observation for ten days before euthanization. The latter was only done if the owner objected to removing the animal's head.
posted by tastybrains at 7:51 AM on July 25, 2007

Huh. I didn't know they have to send the head for rabies testing. How common are rabid bears?

The story. Seems like they messed up with the warnings so I could see why they would hunt it down. PR indeed.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 8:16 AM on July 25, 2007

Attacking a human isn't really "natural" for a black bear. They're more inclined to climb a tree or run away than to attack someone. An individual bear that acts differently, and attacks a human, is thought to be more likely to do it again, so prevention of future attacks is usually the justification for killing it. It isn't the experience itself that's thought to make an animal more likely to attack again. It's a rare black bear that will attack someone, so the attack is thought to indicate a general difference in behavior. I don't know the specifics of the case you are describing, but that's the logic I've generally heard used.

This doesn't mean that if you encounter a black bear you should assume you are safe. It does mean that black bears, like many animals humans fear, have an exaggerated reputation for violence. It's a double-edged problem with certain animals. People tend to either: A) assume the animal is not a threat and fail to take proper precautions, or B) assume the animal is out for blood and freak out or use preemptive violence. In reality black bears are not entirely safe, but they are also unlikely to kill someone. A good description by a researcher who has spent a lot of time studying black bears. More general information from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
posted by Tehanu at 8:17 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ah, shoulda previewed.
posted by Tehanu at 8:18 AM on July 25, 2007

To restore balance and order to the world.

At least that's the traditional answer... but once upon a time, at least the animals got trials:
The Historic and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals (pdf)
posted by Salamandrous at 8:39 AM on July 25, 2007

tastybrains has it (eponysterically!) right. It's not a political or a PR stunt, they kill the animal so that they can test it for rabies. This requires brain tissue, and can only be done after the animal is euthanized. In the case of a wild animal that's attacked a human, the animal is immediately killed and tested. In the case of domestic pets, they'll keep them in quarantine for a bit to see if they develop additional behaviors indicative of rabies. I found this info from Michigan's rabies protocols; I imagine most other states do more or less the same.
posted by JohnFredra at 8:54 AM on July 25, 2007

Also, I wanted to add that rabies testing is probably indicated in wild animal attacks especially because outright attacks (and not just defensive behavior) by bears and many other wild animals is so unusual. Unusual behavior is a major sign of rabies, potentially making the mandatory rabies testing more urgent, making authorities less likely to wait over a week to see if (other) symptoms develop.

Also, while rabid bears are (luckily) not as commonly heard of as rabid raccoons, all mammals are susceptible to rabies and it's such a horrible way to die that I can't blame authorities for wanting to take immediate action in diagnosing it.
posted by tastybrains at 9:17 AM on July 25, 2007

Also, beyond rabies, Tehanu is on the right track. Most wild animals are naturally afraid of humans, and this includes large predators for the most part. Granted, they'll naturally attack children and such, but an animal won't attack an adult human unless it's been startled or unless it's been acclimated to humans. The latter is the more dangerous situation, and it's often a concern when animals are euthanized.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:40 AM on July 25, 2007

Isn't it also a sort of breeding project? Maybe the reason black bears don't normally attack humans is because we've killed most of the ones that do.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:07 AM on July 25, 2007

I don't think the rabies theory is very applicable here. This article indicates that none of the black bears that have been tested after killing someone has had rabies. Tehanu has it right: it isn't normal for a black bear to attack a person and when it does we consider that the bear is an aggressive bear and kill it on that basis. I've run into a lot of black bears and can confirm that their normal behavior is to run away or head up a tree when they see or hear me. They do, however, do an autopsy on the dead bears after killing them to try to find out if anything was amiss.

Additionally, I think that the OP has the facts about this particular story wrong. No one hunted down the bear: the bear was guarding the body when it was sighted and the RCMP shot it so that the body could be recovered safely. This article indicates as much. However, the Conservation Officer would have tried to track down and kill the bear had that not been the case.

Finally, the value of a black bear in Southeastern BC is very low. Black bears that happen to be hanging around towns or spotted eating any garbage near towns are generally killed. Only grizzlies are considered valuable enough for relocation, though some black bears are relocated in other areas. In British Columbia an average of about 1000 black bears are killed every year. Conservation Officers generally use traps baited with peanut butter to catch black bears that are hanging around town (and seem to particularly like to set the traps up just up the street from my house).
posted by ssg at 10:10 AM on July 25, 2007

Just to clarify something, wild animals are not naturally afraid of humans. They are afraid of humans because they have been taught to be afraid of them. For instance, there have been several instances of mountain lions attacking humans in the West in recent years.

What we try to avoid is letting an animal look at humans as a food source - which, basically, we are. Like King Julian says in Madagascar, "We are all steak."

We're lucky that we are particularly good at killing things that try to eat us.
posted by CRS at 10:13 AM on July 25, 2007

I don't know that I see the distinction between animals that are naturally afraid of people and animals which have been taught to be afraid of them. Any such ingrained behavior is taught to some extent. We tend to kill animals, so they stay away from us.

I took a trip to the Alaskan tundra, where animals handn't *seen* people before. Grizzlys were inquisitive of us. They didn't attack, but they didn't run away either. If they heard high-powered rifle fire, they ran away from the noise. Take from that what you will.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:43 AM on July 25, 2007

Jim Corbett's Man-Eaters of Kumaon makes the point that the tigers who repeatedly attacked humans in India were invariably found to have an injury or illness that deprived them of the ability to take their natural prey.

There is no predator for whom it is "natural" to hunt humans. When a bear does so, it often is signaling that it is ill or something is wrong with it - rabies can be one of those things, but there are other possibilities.

Since that particular bear has already shown that it's a danger around humans - which is not typical of bears - the Fish and Game department has to manage this somehow. It's hard to imagine what they else they could do besides kill it. Capturing it and treating its injury (if possible) would just tame it and make it unsuitable for reintroduction to the wild.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:19 PM on July 25, 2007

Just to clarify something, wild animals are not naturally afraid of humans. They are afraid of humans because they have been taught to be afraid of them.

I don't think this has anything to do with bear behavior. Bears do not typically hunt large animals for food. Their reaction to a large animal like a human would naturally not be violent unless it was defending itself or its cub.

Also, just because the bears did not have rabies does not mean that they are not euthanized in part because of rabies testing. Bears do carry rabies and most states require rabies testing on wild animals that bite humans.
posted by tastybrains at 12:22 PM on July 25, 2007

When I backpacked out west, we used to say "a fed bear is a dead bear".

Once they acquire a taste for human food and realize how easy it is to get, they'll never stop harrassing campers and towns. They usually end up having to kill it.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:44 PM on July 25, 2007

Despite what others have said about rabies testing in the USA, rabies just isn't a factor here: it may be in other places, but this particular bear was killed in British Columbia. From the BC Center for Disease Control: In British Columbia, the only species that carries rabies is bats.
posted by ssg at 2:19 PM on July 25, 2007

From a medical angle I don't think the rabies explanation is right, at least it doesn't help protect the person who was attacked. If you are bitten by a possibly rabid bear, you have to get immunised ASAP, before the rabies results for the animal are in. Knowing for sure that a patient has been bitten by a rabid animal will require the medics to bring them in for observation, but usually won't be enough to save them if they didn't get immunised right away.
posted by roofus at 4:40 PM on July 25, 2007

As others have noted, attacking humans is abnormal behavior for a Black Bear. Black bears who predate humans fall into two classes: Food habituated bears who have repeatedly been fed or obtained food from people, and sick bears who have had little or no contact with people. If the bear was simply surprised or cornered and panicked, or was protecting offspring, then this is probably a jumpier than average bear. In any case, destroying the bear is probably a prudent choice to forestall further attacks.

The best thing you can do to protect bears is to ensure that they are unable to get to your food, and to run them off of it if they do. I take food bags away from bears in yosemite on a pretty regular basis, and put a rock in the behind of any I catch prowling for food.

Wild animals which have co-evolved with primitive humans do have a natural fear of humans. Those who didn't may or may not, but the ones that did had a better chance to survive to the present day.
posted by Manjusri at 5:24 PM on July 25, 2007

public relations
posted by loiseau at 10:09 PM on July 25, 2007

From a medical angle I don't think the rabies explanation is right, at least it doesn't help protect the person who was attacked. If you are bitten by a possibly rabid bear, you have to get immunised ASAP, before the rabies results for the animal are in.

No, this is why the head is cut off - that's the only way to test that is fast enough to ensure the attack victim can be started on treatment in time. You can the results back in hours, and a victim probably have a few days to start treatment without too much risk. (I know someone who was briefed on the procedure and reasons for it, for working in a vet clinic). There are plenty of ways to test for rabies (wait a week and see if they start foaming :-) but an autopsy is the only instant way.

That said, rabies is not the cause of killer animals being killed, as others have noted it is also a pretty standard proceedure in countries that do not have rabies.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:37 AM on July 26, 2007

It occurs to me to add - treatment for rabies is rough, it is not a quick jab in the arm, it is very painful, intrusive and takes a long time, (and is probably also expensive). It's not something that you just routinely subject a person too after the a poodle nips a postman and the poodle doesn't have vaccine paperwork - you find out if there is a rabies risk first. (And that means that if the poodle can't be proved to be vaccinated, it gets it's head cut off, unless the postman decides to risk his life to save the poodle's)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:17 AM on July 30, 2007

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