A petition to reinstate British Columbia conservation officer Bryce Casavant has nearly reached 200,000 signatures as of Monday morning. Casavant was suspended without pay earlier this month when he refused an order to euthanize two black bear cubs—a male and female—after their mother was killed after repeatedly ransacking a mobile home near Port Hardy for food. Instead, Casavant retrieved the bear cubs and turned them over to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Errington, earning a reprimand from his superiors.
“The babies were estimated to be about eight weeks and weigh 20 to 25 pounds, are healthy and still nursing,” stated the online petition, which urges Minister of Environment Mary Polak to reinstate Casavant as soon as possible.
Casavant’s suspension has drawn significant media attention and crowds of supporters, but opinions among fellow wildlife officers are mixed. According to the experts, relocating bears is expensive, labor-intensive, and has a high chance of failure. Adult bears that are relocated will often find their way back to where they were captured while cubs have much lower chances for survival. In this case, officials indicated that the cubs were with their mother while she raided the mobile home and may have picked up the behavior themselves. Experts say it takes only one exposure to garbage feeding before cubs learn to do it afterwards.
“Bears are so smart. They are smarter that the average dog. Once they see a pattern where they can get some food, they will return again and again with the hypothesis that there’s got to be food there again sometime,” retired wildlife professor Barrie Gilbert told the CBC.
Gilbert added that people supporting Casavant are listening more to their emotions than proper conservation techniques. Wildlife agencies across Canada and the United States must sometimes euthanize orphaned cubs, especially if they have learned how to target humans for food. Environment Minister Mary Polak said in a statement that the decision to destroy the cubs came from senior biologists and provincial wildlife veterinarians, as well as the conservation officers involved.
You can see a video of the cubs below:
“This is a very sad and unfortunate situation,” Polak said. “Although conservation officers must sometimes put down wild animals for the safety of the public and the welfare of the animal, we understand how difficult it is for all involved.”
Robin Campbell, who runs the rehabilitation center where the cubs are now, said there is no reason to euthanize them since they were never in the mobile home. Campbell added that the decision is oftentimes left to the officer in the field, and after investigating, it was Casavant’s decision not to kill the cubs.
“Bryce has put down bears before, that’s not the issue,” Campbell told the Toronto Star. “Killing something for no reason was the issue.”
The Conservation Officer Service is currently investigating the case and officials have not yet decided on what to do with the cubs. Casavant also remains suspended, but his pay was recently reinstated.