The image still haunts me. We were on a family vacation, driving into Yellowstone National Park. Ahead of us, a family stopped and rolled down the window on the passenger side. Dad wanted a picture of his child feeding the bear. I don’t know if he got the picture, but his child got a nasty leg injury when the bear swiped at the food.
The incident was a first for the recreation area. Senior Parks Ecologist Melanie Percy told CBC the wolf had been approaching vehicles for some time, looking for food handouts. She said:
Wolves, especially young wolves, often exhibit curiosity behavior, and as all the occurrences involved vehicles, no action was taken against the wolf. But we were sort of opportunistically using aversive conditioning – so cracker shells and paintballs on the wolf – to get it away from the highway and get it away from people.
The tactics did not work. The young wolf began coming up to people, running at motorcycles and vehicles, and chasing bicycles. Bear spray kept the wolf at a distance but did not scare it away.
Things came to a head when the wolf stalked a father and his young son and puppy in the Mount Kidd campground. They ran into a washroom, but the wolf waited outside for them. Conservation officers chased the wolf away from the campground and shot it.
This is not the only time this summer humans have endangered wildlife by deliberately luring them with food. On July 9th a tourist driving Highway 93 South tossed a rice cake to a wolf, and cars stopped so visitors could snap photos.
Two weeks later tourists in a van threw food to grizzlies in Banff National Park. Fortunately, the bears ignored the lure, and other visitors notified Parks Canada. They contacted the tour company to remind them of the rules and the possibility of a fine that can reach $25,000.
Jim Pissot, executive director of WildCanada Conservation Alliance, put it succinctly in a comment to Rocky Mountain Outlook:
Habituating wildlife to human food is insane for public safety, and habituating wildlife to food along roadway is a death sentence to the animal.
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