It’s an image that millions of people who’ve watched it won’t soon forget: a majestic grizzly bear thrashing in confused agony as she tumbles down a hill, her blood smearing the snow, while the men who shot her cheer at the misery and suffering they’ve delivered. An investigator might have filmed the horrible spectacle to expose it and remind regular citizens what some people are capable of doing. But they filmed the bleeding animals themselves, as some sort of Kodak moment, which they’d presumably watch for pleasure in the years ahead.
It’s become all too commonplace in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where the government allows trophy hunters to slaughter hundreds of grizzly bears a year — the biggest toll of grizzlies in all of North America. But according to reputable polls, more than 90 percent of B.C. residents oppose the trophy hunt of the province’s grizzlies.
Because of that nearly unanimous opposition to this government-sanctioned policy, it may be the next thing that comes crashing down.
B.C.’s provincial election is on May 9th, and the New Democratic Party, which is neck and neck with the governing Liberals in the polls, has promised to ban the trophy hunt of grizzly bears across the province if elected. Even the Liberals have made vague promises to look into ending the hunt in a portion of the grizzlies range – in the Great Bear Forest in the west of the vast province.
More than 10,000 supporters of Humane Society International/Canada have signed a letter to B.C. premier Christy Clark, asking her to ban the hunt. And along with partner groups Pacific Wild, LUSH Cosmetics, and Wildlife Defence League, HSI/Canada participated in the delivery of over 70,000 signatures to the B.C. legislature this week, calling for a ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting.
Many shot bears don’t succumb quickly to the hunters’ bullets. All too often, injured bears run off, suffering for hours before blood loss or shock or sepsis overcomes them. Perhaps most tragic is the fate of the countless bear cubs who slowly starve to death while they wait in their dens for their slaughtered mothers who will never return.
British Columbia is home to the second largest grizzly bear population in the world, and grizzlies are an iconic species for both the province and for all of Canada. Every year, tourists from around the world flock to B.C.’s lush forests to participate in bear viewing expeditions, which have been shown to bring in up to 10 times more direct revenue to the province than trophy hunting.
Bear viewing is a much larger industry than bear killing, and the latter business threatens the former. Bear viewing operations have noted that demand for bear viewing has grown to the point where they’re reaching capacity, but they cannot access the vast majority of grizzly bear territory, because most of it is set aside for trophy hunters. Furthermore, they point out that nobody wants to view a bear that they know is likely to be slaughtered for head and hide.
The provincial government estimates that the grizzly populations number up to 15,000, but leading scientists from the University of Victoria and Simon Frasier University have been critical of the methods used to census bears. The actual count may be half the current estimate. Those same scientists also found that hunters were exceeding their kill quotas in half of the populations they studied. But even with current government estimates, we know that at least nine of the province’s 57 grizzly populations are threatened.
It’s clear that this trophy hunt is not just poorly monitored and managed, but that there’s no compelling rationale for it whatsoever. From every angle one looks at the issue – whether it is animal welfare, conservation, or economics – it’s clear that there is no good reason for this hunt to continue.
Let’s hope that after May 9, the party that commands the majority makes the decision that more than 90 percent of British Columbians polled want them to make: putting an end to the grizzly hunt, thereby reversing the damage done to the province’s economy and reputation.