National Park Service Suspends Take-Home-a-Grizzly Program
Washington, DC (Reuters) – Following a number of unfortunate incidents, the National Park Service has issued a three-year moratorium on its Take Home a Grizzly initiative. It intends to revisit the issue in early 2016.
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told reporters that an unacceptable number of violent incidents had occurred involving the bears, and that for their own protection, many of the animals already residing with human families would be returned to the wilderness areas from which they were removed.
The NPS had already been monitoring the program after multiple reports of humans mistreating the adopted bears, including cases in which the bears were prevented from rummaging through dumpsters and trash cans, often the animals’ principal sources of food. Jarvis noted that although most of the applicants for bear adoption were diligent in following the feeding and care guidelines, neighbors often mistook the harmless, 400-pound carnivores for dangerous, and would chase the bears away or even shoot at them.
In one prominent case, a grizzly bear was foraging for barbecue leftovers in a suburban backyard in Oregon when an SUV driven by a neighbor shined its headlights directly in the bear’s face. The bear charged the vehicle and smashed its windshield and left side mirror with its paws, necessitating a veterinary visit for stitches.
“Bears don’t like getting stitches,” says Dr. Noh Duh, who supervised the effort to treat the bear, named Princess. “We had to tranquilize Princess just so we could get close enough to sew up the gashes, and we veterinarians hate doing that.” He said he sees about ten cases per year now, up from only about four a decade ago, before the adoption program began.
Take Home a Grizzly was the brainchild of Robert Stanton, who headed the NPS during the last few years of the Clinton administration. It was finally inaugurated under his successor, Fran Mainella, in late 2002. Since then, nearly two hundred grizzlies have found homes among suburban humans throughout the Northwest. Of those, thirty subsequently moved with their human families to locations outside the animals’ original habitat area, moving as far east as Chicago and as far south as Arizona.
Tense confrontations between humans and bears have happened for thousands of years, but with human expansion into previously pristine wilderness they became ever more frequent. In an effort to dispel that tension and promote peaceful coexistence, the NPS initially focused Take Home a Grizzly on visitors to the National Parks, and eventually to a nationwide audience, which responded with enthusiasm.
Selection criteria for adoptive families are strict. The household income must be sufficient enough to ensure the purchasing power to feed a grown bear, which can go through almost a ton of food just in preparation for hibernation. The combined IQ of the family must also not exceed 180, because only people that stupid can be trusted to put themselves between a grizzly and its welfare for extended periods.
An internal review of the program in 2007 called it mildly successful, citing such results as less population pressure in the bears’ original habitats, and consequently less competition for resources in those areas. It called “troubling” reports that bears were mauling humans in their adopted areas and leaving them to die.
“Our assumption had been that the grizzlies’ natural instincts would drive them to completely consume the mauled humans, especially as winter approached,” explained Ursa A. Horribilis, formerly the Assistant Director of the program. “But we found that humans had had such a deleterious impact on the bears’ habits that the poor creatures started behaving as humans do, treating everything as disposable and not cleaning up after themselves.”
The situation had not changed when similar reports were issued in 2009 and 2011. This year, Jarvis convened the relevant staff and informed them that he would be forced to close the program if the findings did not show improvement. He relented on ending it permanently, pending a new analysis of the data, at least until early 2016.
The first bears to be restored to their original habitats will be the ones removed from the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, according to a press release by the NPS. National Park Rangers will be authorized to tranquilize any humans endangering the effort. Grizzlies inhabiting areas within 200 miles of their original habitat will be allowed to remain, provisionally, with their host families.
A similar program with staphylococcus bacteria was halted in 2006.
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