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Letter: A shift noticed in black bears attacking humans

Former Fish and Wildlife officer weighs in on bruin behaviour

Re: Letter: It's time for big white dogs to protect livestock and people from predators like bears

I was a Fish and Wildlife officer employed for 34 years in five regions of Alberta. I trapped, relocated and euthanized dozens of black and grizzly bears during my career.

During my employment, I diarized that the black bear was becoming more predatory and the grizzly remaining mainly defensive. Put simply, blacks were starting to preferentially ‘hunt’ small livestock, domestic pets and humans. 

Grizzlies were protecting their territory, young and food, but certainly, on occasion, killing a human. The key word here is hunt. During my tenure I was starting to notice a shift in black bears attacking humans and grizzlies maintaining traditional patterns of attack or kill. 

The records and experts may state otherwise, but I found myself investigating more complaints of black bears tracking humans as prey, then killing and feeding on them. 

Whereas, grizzlies were maintaining their usual patterns of defence against humans and the killing of large livestock in early pre- and post-hibernation periods. This is when they are most hungry and more predisposed to shift from traditional feeding patterns.

Anecdotally, I successfully relocated approximately 80 per cent of the blacks that I trapped, and over 95 per cent of the grizzly bears. Forty-three cattle and no humans were unaccounted for due to grizzly predation. 

Three people were hunted and two of those confirmed killed by black bears. 

I failed to document a single case of a black bear successfully killing a mature bovine or equine, or a grizzly pre-meditatively hunting, killing and feeding on a human. 

Eventually, I wrote and published five books documenting many of my experiences.

Today, although somewhat understaffed, Alberta wildlife officers deploy elite Large Predator Response Teams supported by a dedicated DNA analysis lab, arguably the best in Canada and one of only a few in North America. 

As such, it can be determined with confidence, when a bear is captured or euthanized, if it was truly the animal responsible.

Murray Bates,


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