Us or Them: Was the Killing of a Local Three-Legged Bear Really Necessary?

State agency says it was protecting area residents, while critics say it's trigger-happy.

Wild bears like this one frequently infiltrate human neighborhoods looking for food.
Wild bears like this one frequently infiltrate human neighborhoods looking for food. (Photo: Tier Und Naturfotografie J und C Sohns/Getty Images)
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Up until recently, residents in a high-end housing complex in North Carolina were accustomed to seeing a scrawny three-legged bear making himself at home in their neighborhood. The animal was frequently seen taking a stroll down their golf course, digging through their trash, and on occasion, letting himself into their homes to ransack the fridge. Property managers decided that after conferring with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, they would forgo trying to relocate the bear and simply shoot it.

Euthanizing wild animals tainted by human contact isn’t a new practice, and has become increasingly necessary under certain conditions. But some say this latest incident is exemplary of a state wildlife commission that’s less interested in preserving wild animals than it is in systematically demonstrating its dominance over them.

This particular bear first started appearing in North Carolina's Mountain Air community in 2011. According to the Associated Press, he appeared by all accounts to be rather thin, and so construction workers in the area made the fortuitous move to start feeding the bear, essentially signing his death warrant. When animals become “food-conditioned” by humans, they’re no longer able to survive in the wild. Worse, giving them food sets up an expectation that sustenance will be forthcoming every time they interact with people, and when that expectation isn’t met, bears can attack.

MORE: Further Proof That People Who Feed Wild Animals Tend to Cause Their Deaths

But other states have tried to at least investigate sending invading animals to sanctuaries before euthanizing them. In contrast, according to ABC’s local news outlet KSTP, resident Beverly Hammond reported that property managers and the commission were both unwilling to do anything more than solve the problem with firearms.

Over recent years, the North Carolina commission has gathered its fair share of detractors, who cite its single-minded focus on killing over other methods of wildlife management. Recently the commission granted hunters temporary permission to kill coyotes at night to curb the species' overgrowing population. The move happened amid protests that nighttime hunts would risk the lives of the red wolf population, an endangered species that closely resembles coyotes and occupies the same territory. After five rare wolves were accidentally killed during those hunts, a court-ordered injunction against the agency brought a temporary halt to the measure.  

And last year, the commission shot and killed nine penned-in deer, insisting that they needed to be tested for Chronic Wasting Disease, a process that can't be performed on live animals. Later the agency  made a public statement admitting the tests all came back “negative.”

And just this month, in a stunningly bad PR move, the commission decided to “make up a fake permit” giving official permission to North Carolina resident, Clay Logan, to conduct his annual “Opossum Drop.” It’s a New Year’s Eve tradition that Logan holds at his general store in Brasstown, where he suspends a captured opossum above a raucous party of New Year’s Eve revelers, and then drops the animal into the crowd, much like the ball in Times Square.

Through PETA’s efforts, the commission was ordered this month by a North Carolina court to rescind its “permit” after declaring the event entirely unlawful, not to mention unusually cruel. And though the animal isn’t killed during the process, the event demonstrates a startling lack of compassion towards a creature that’s done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

While it’s true that killing wildlife can be necessary to protect human safety, it’s also important that those killings occur after thoughtful reason, not simply out of habit or in an effort to avoid inconvenience. The least we can do while we’re invading animals’ natural habitats to erect our housing developments and strip malls is to treat the area’s original owners with a basic level of respect.

Do you agree that when it comes to protecting our safety, the killing of wildlife has become somewhat necessary, or would you prefer to see us forgoing further developments in order to preserve animals’  natural homes? Let us know in the Comments.

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