NH Officials Review Bear Bait Regulations after Chocolate “Overdose” Allegedly Kills 4

   01.23.15

Bears will eat just about anything, but not even their stomachs can handle a mountain of chocolate and donuts.
Bears will eat just about anything, but not even their stomachs can handle a mountain of chocolate and donuts.

How much chocolate is too much chocolate? For a group of four black bears, a 90-pound mountain of chocolate and chocolate donuts proved to be lethal. According to the Concord Monitor, the New Hampshire Game and Fish Department is considering new regulations for bear baiting after conservation officers found two adult female bears and two cubs dead near a bait site in the northern part of the state.

“The case in New Hampshire perhaps represents one of the most significant cases for two reasons,” Game and Fish bear project leader Andrew Timmins told the Monitor. “First, the concentration of dead bears found at the site is unprecedented, and the direct link between the chocolate and the death of an adult bear is rare.”

According to wildlife officials, there have been longstanding concerns over the use of chocolate as bear bait. Hunters are advised to avoid using it at their bait sites because chocolate contains theobromine, an ingredient that is toxic not only to bears, but to other animals such as raccoons and dogs as well. It is also unknown how much theobromine is too much before triggering a fatal overdose.

“While theobromine poisoning has been studied and documented in wild and domestic dogs, cats, rodents and humans, per-pound toxicity levels for bears and other wildlife species remain unknown at this time,” Fish and Game wrote on its website.

The amount of chocolate that is fatal can differ from animal to animal and different types of chocolate also contain different levels of theobromine. Experts say that unsweetened baker’s chocolate has the highest concentration of the ingredient, followed by dark chocolate and finally milk chocolate, which has the lowest amount.

“The size of the animal ingesting the chocolate is also an important factor,” stated Fish and Game. “Smaller animals are more susceptible to poisoning compared to larger animals, because they do not have to eat as much to be impacted.”

As such, bear cubs are especially vulnerable to fatal doses of theobromine. Previously, Fish and Game did not support changing regulations to ban chocolate use in bait sites, but the recent case led Timmins and other staff members to draft a formal proposal to the Fish and Game Commission. Wildlife officials reassured hunters that baiting remains a vital part of the bear management program, and no plans are in motion to get rid of baiting altogether. However, new regulations may be set to avoid accidental bear poisoning in the future.

Officials have also not stated whether there would be any charges for the unidentified hunter who placed the bait pile. The hunter stated that he had been bear hunting for 15 years and have previously used the chocolate and donut bait at other sites before.

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