For a few days now, Bruno the bear has been something of a celebrity around the world. Hundreds of people have flocked to catch a glimpse of this wandering bear who is reported to have walked to Missouri all the way from Wisconsin, journeying through Illinois and, briefly, Iowa, possibly in search of a mate. His journey has been closely followed on social media, and a Facebook page, “Keeping Bruno Safe,” now has more than 150,000 fans.
Unfortunately, Bruno has arrived in Missouri just as the state is plotting to open season on black bears like him. That means, if he stays, Bruno may have made his long journey only to end up as a trophy in someone’s living room.
The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has joined Bruno’s legions of fans in keeping him safe—for now. This week, after he got too close to a major interstate intersection in St. Charles County, MDC officials relocated him to a “more suitable habitat.”
While that’s great, it is difficult to reconcile the MDC’s concern for Bruno’s safety with the fact that it wants to make a gift of its small black bear population to trophy hunters. If MDC really wants to help black bears like Bruno, it needs to abandon its ridiculous and unnecessary proposal for a trophy hunt.
According to MDC estimates, there are now approximately 540 to 840 bears in Missouri, a number some studies say may be inflated. And even if there are as many bears as the MDC claims, it’s still not a large number. Missouri residents also do not support such a hunt and when the MDC opened a comment period on this proposed hunt in June, most commenters spoke out against it.
There is no sound science behind black bear trophy hunting. These animals are known to have low reproductive rates and generally have few offspring. Unlike some other species, they’re also capable of self-regulating their own numbers. Trophy hunting, in fact, may decimate their populations faster than is acceptable because hunters tend to target adult breeding animals, which can lead to cubs being killed by incoming male bears looking to take over the newly opened territory.
Black bears like Bruno are also highly sentient animals, with one of the largest relative brain sizes of any carnivore. They have strong family ties and spend prolonged periods raising and nurturing their cubs. Hunting these animals just for the thrill of a kill is simply wrong and something most conservationists and animal lovers would not support.
Human-bear conflicts are rare in Missouri, and there are plenty of highly effective, nonlethal measures available to resolve them when they occur. The MDC’s quick intervention to remove Bruno from an urban area is a good example of such a method. Black bears are naturally shy, and they avoid humans, but as suburban neighborhoods push into their territory, it is inevitable that conflicts may arise. Instead of appeasing a few trophy hunters, the MDC should expand and dedicate its resources towards providing public education about how to peacefully coexist with bears as their numbers slowly grow. Simple steps, like using bear-resistant trash cans, cleaning up barbecue grills, feeding pets indoors, and using electric fencing around chicken coops and beehives can effectively prevent problems before they occur.
Black bears are native American carnivores. They have long been a part of our natural landscape, and they have a well-deserved place in it. We’ll be following Bruno’s journey in coming days, along with other fans around the world. The interest in his story should be a clear reminder to MDC officials that Americans love black bears and are interested in their natural lives; on the other hand, almost no one wants to see a dead trophy on a wall. Still, if the state refuses to ditch its wrongheaded proposal and pivot instead to helping its small population of black bears survive and thrive, all we can say is, run, Bruno, run from Missouri.