With the province of Ontario reinstating the ‘controversial’ spring bear hunt, it’s critical to recognize the abundance of young that are under the threat of abandonment with the hunting season now taking place.
Due to hunting this year, cubs may be orphaned, but many other types of Ontario wildlife are also left abandoned, orphaned and injured, due to a variety of reasons, with only a few local facilities with the ability, tools and knowledge needed in the aiding, recovery and revival of these unfortunate young animals.
According to animal activists, the spring bear hunt is downright ‘cruel’ considering bears are just rising from another long winter of hibernation. Mother bears become pregnant in June and July so while hibernating, they’re also nurturing their unborn cubs. If their nursing mothers are shot by accident, the offspring will more than likely be searching for food since they haven’t been shown how to forage, while most orphaned cubs will almost inevitably succumb to starvation and ultimately, death.
Shortcut to Serenity is a local wildlife rehab facility located in Stayner, Ontario, that happens to be the sole facility within an hour’s drive. The centre is managed by Diane Babeckas who has an adamant devotion to animals; her passion has kept her working with animals for over 20 years and she’s been licenced by the Ministry of Natural Resources Canada as well as Canada Wildlife Services since the licensing came into effect 10 years ago.
Unfortunately, her love for animals does not mean she is fully equipped to handle larger wildlife such as bears. This spring Diane certainly has her hands full with all of the young animals she will is attending to. Diane disagrees with the spring bear hunt: “I’m totally against the spring bear hunt; all it does is make more orphaned babies for the wildlife centres, mess with the natural environment and induce pain and suffering on our precious bears.”
Year after year, during the spring and summer months, hundreds of young animals are unnecessarily taken from their environment by the general public, and brought to wildlife rehabilitation centres for treatment. These animals are often naturally expanding their range of territory while gaining essential life experience. As an example, a lot of baby birds may be on the ground during the warmer weather while they are learning to fly. If you are concerned for the well-being of these hatchlings, check nearby trees and bushes.
“They can be knocked out of the nest by their mothers to teach them to fly up. If you see a baby racoon walking around, and they look fat and healthy, their mother is likely nearby. If you see an animal in the nest, and they don’t look dehydrated, leave them there. Baby fawns might be left in the long grass, and the mother is nowhere near – it’s because the mother is carrying her scent far away from the baby as a deterrent for predators, thus leading them astray,” says wildlife rehabilitator, Diane Babeckas.
Diane rescues all types of wildlife, specializing in rabies vector species such as raccoons, bats, and birds as well as migratory birds like robins, crows, woodpeckers, ducks and geese. Last year, Diane rehabilitated almost 200 animals including 70 birds, 62 raccoons, 30 Canada geese, 22 mallards and two bats. Diane relies on donations from the public and runs her facility on her own.
Currently, Diane is on a devout mission to raise enough money to expand her sanctuary; essentially, Diane would like to purchase more land for larger animals such as bears. Diane’s next ‘mission’ is to raise enough money to erect a fence around the perimeter of her facility as well as develop a non-profit website in order to raise awareness and share her wildlife stories.
Diane also takes in other wildlife species that are not on her list like fawns, opossums, hawks and owls, and further relocates them to the proper facilities. Last year, Diane cared for five fawns, four opossums, six hawks and four owls. Although she is presently unable to maintain and care for all of the animals she would hope to, her determination and soft heart are the prime motivators in the expansion of “Shortcut to Serenity” slowly making this necessary service a reality.
Wild animals can carry a multitude of diseases including distemper and raccoon roundworm. Because of the risk of disease transmission, especially distemper, any suspected orphan should be kept away from domestic pets as well as humans since diseases such as roundworm can be fatal to humans. There is always considerable risk associated with anyone handling a wild animal. It’s also illegal to have any type of wildlife in your home!
Some symptoms of distemper in dogs include coughing, sneezing, thick mucus in the nose and eyes, as well as fever, lethargy, sudden vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and depression. Testing for the virus is difficult, as symptoms are varied and are connected with many other possible diseases or viruses.
Distemper can also be transmitted by saliva, urine or blood. Although vaccinating your pet most certainly helps to prevent the transmission of viruses and diseases. “Last year, distemper was extremely rampant – an epidemic taking over 50% or more of raccoons that were taken to the vet – the cold doesn’t kill off the disease either. At an Alliston vet, 10 raccoons alone suffered from distemper and were euthanized in a two week period,” says Diane.
Moreover, animal bites may become infected; fleas and ticks can invade your household or pets, and over-handling (imprinting) of wildlife will make it difficult to incorporate them back into the wild.
Tips on protecting local wildlife:
- There are many things you can do around your own home to help protect wild animals that may be near your property – this includes using non-toxic products outside your home and on your lawn, ensuring maintenance of vehicles and boats to prevent oil and other chemicals from leaking into their water source, picking up any garbage or refuse while also containing your garbage and recycling to deter wildlife from coming to your home for dinner.
- If there are any openings around the home which may attract wildlife who may be looking for that perfect winter home (such as vents, chimneys, under eaves), look into the covers so animals are not causing problems or getting trapped.
- Take an educational trip to rescue centres when available; they are an invaluable source of information for co-existing with our wildlife populations. Also, they are an excellent way to learn about wild animals and the wildlife rehabilitation in progress. The closest facility that offers tours for the public is in Beeton at the Procyon Wildlife centre – http://www.procyonwildlife.org/.
“The public needs to be more educated about wildlife and knowing when to just leave them alone, especially when they don’t need to be rescued. It’s very important to make sure they are abandoned or injured before you interfere,” says Diane.
Misinformation and lobbying has brought on the ‘controversial’ subject of this year’s spring bear hunt which will lead cubs to be orphaned or abandoned, left to starve in the wild or if found, located to a wildlife facility which will require donations from the public in order to take care of the abandoned animal. “We will probably see an increased frequency of young cubs because of injuries and being left orphaned since cubs need be with their mother for a year or so – we will also see cubs starving to death in the event the mother is killed in the spring,” says a representative from the Wild at Heart Refuge Centre in Lively, Ontario.
Cubs stay with their mother for approximately 18 months and den with her again during the following winter. When they are a year and a half old, cubs leave their mothers prior to the June/July mating season. A mother bear may venture as far as four kilometers away from her cubs so without them present, a hunter may find it difficult to differentiate between male and female. If the cubs sense fear, they will hide or run up a tree out of sight of hunter’s. Adult male black bears are 120-280 kilograms (as much as three large men) whereas female bears are between 45 to 182 kilograms in weight. Male bears have smaller ears and generally, females are leaner.
Although the government is only allowing the spring bear hunt to take place in certain northern areas such as the area surrounding and between the cities of Timmons, down to Sudbury and across to North Bay, around Sault Ste. Marie, and around Thunder Bay, there are only three facilities that can facilitate bears: www.bearwithus.org–www.aspenvalley.ca and www.wahrefugecentre.org.
In a report conducted in 2003 by the MNR, it was agreed that the spring bear hunt had little to no impact on nuisance bear activity in communities!
“In fact, in many years during the Spring Hunt, and especially in 1995 & 1998, were the two worst years for ‘nuisance bears’ on record. There were 6,348 bears reported killed in 1998 and 4,124 in 1999. You would think that with 2,000 more bears in circulation that nuisance bear problems would increase – but, no, the number decreased significantly in the first year after the spring hunt ban in 1999. This certainly disproves the idea that killing more bears in the spring will reduce the number of nuisance bears and that their theory is unsound” (Nuisance Bear Review Committee).
Jolanta Kowalski, the Sr. Media Relations Officer, from the Ministry of Natural Resources, claims there’s been an increasing number of complaints from northerners and northern municipalities that they are concerned about public safety and human-bear conflicts.
It’s important to note that black bears rarely attack humans; for each death from a black bear across North America, there are approximately 17 deaths from spiders, 25 deaths from snakes, 67 deaths from dogs, 150 deaths from tornadoes, 180 deaths from bees and wasps, 374 deaths from lightning, and 90,000 homicides in the United States alone (data from the National Center for Health Statistics, 1980-1983).
Without proper scientific research, this unnecessary hunt will lead to injured, orphaned, abandoned, and hungry little bears (looking for food) that weren’t shown how to hunt and forage properly. Won’t this be a nuisance? The public needs to be educated properly on how to coincide with wildlife. Coexistence with bears is possible!
“Bear management is a very complex issue. Any management system which interferes with ecosystems (in this case the reduction in numbers of one species) can cause immense changes in the finely balanced ecosystems of beautiful northern Ontario. Before any policy change takes place, it needs to be well thought and scientifically studied – not done as a political decision which often has no logical framework,” says Dr. Rod Jouppi: President from Wild at Heart Refuge.
Black bears are an integral wild animal in the Ontario ecosystem. They play a vital role in balancing our ecosystems and more importantly, it’s agreed by the Minister of Natural Resources, David Orazietti, the bear population is currently “sustainable”. Ontario has about 105,000 black bears and also has a fall bear hunting season. Mike McIntosh of Bear with Us – http://bearwithus.org/ also opposes any move toward the spring bear hunt.
The Sr. Media Relations Officer from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Jolanta Kowalski, ensures they will jointly monitor this two-year pilot project and evaluate its success on an ongoing basis by:
- tracking the number and type of calls to the Bear Wise hotline from the pilot communities,
- monitoring the number of bear hunters and the number of bears harvested,
- estimating the population density of black bears in the pilot areas, and
- working with the pilot municipalities to identify changing trends in human-bear encounters.
Under the proposed pilot project, hunting bear cubs or sows with cubs would be illegal. But what happens if a hunter is unable to differentiate between the two should the cubs not be present? Not to forget to mention that there’s already a fall bear hunt so the overall numbers in our precious bear population will sadly dwindle. The appropriate penalty for contravention of the regulations if a sow with cubs is shot should be firmly set in place.
“The hunt was originally cancelled in 1999 after science and reports from the Ministry of Natural Resources showed no results in preventing nuisance bear calls and led to the known orphaning of over 270 cubs. But it seems politicians have short memories – or are desperate for votes. APFA, in conjunction with several other animal advocacy groups, are standing strongly against this hunt, noting that it will not solve any nuisance problems, that it will result in the orphaning of cubs, and that the baiting and hunting of bears is an unsafe practice.” (The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals).
Only through research, education and making a visit to your local Wildlife Sanctuary or Rescue, will the general public be capable of making a difference in an orphaned bear’s life. As always, an informed citizen is an irreplaceable weapon in the conservation and preservation of our ecosystems and wildlife.