Canada's Olympic host city overrun by bears

Dozens of urbanised black bears are making life uncomfortable for residents of the coastal mountain suburbs of Vancouver in Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia.

The number of complaints against black bears in north Vancouver has reached an all-time high of 1 200 so far this year, four times the number conservation officers received last year, which was already a record year.

Greater numbers have also been spotted in the nearby communities of west Vancouver, Coquitlam and Port Moody. It is estimated that 50 black bears live in the area, attracted by garbage, pet food and bird feeders left in suburban gardens.

Local resident Mary Lone said she was shocked to see a black bear staring at her through the glass patio doors of her home last week.

“It didn’t seem scared at all,” she said. “It went away after a while, but it makes you afraid to sit out in the back yard or do gardening, not to mention barbeques.”

Until 1999, most black bears coming into these areas would have been shot dead on sight in the name of public safety.
Today, only bears that seem unlikely to stay away from human habitations are killed. The vast majority are now trapped in cages and removed from the area in the expectation that they will not return.

In the week ending July 8, for example, three bears were moved 50km inland, while one bear that had grown too used to humans was shot.

The North Shore Black Bears Network (NSBBN) was set up in 1999 to monitor bear encounters and to advocate moving the animals rather than killing them.

Spokesperson Tony Webb said the group formed after 39 bears were shot in one area during the season. His group tries to educate the public about making their homes bear-proof and assists conservation officers when the bears are being “hazed”, or frightened off with firecrackers.

“This area is home to the black bear and to us,” he said. “We want them to pass through without incident and we want people to know they are bad citizens if they attract the animals through carelessness.”

Two full-time bear officers were recently appointed by the provincial government to deal with catching and removing problem bears, freeing up the NSBBN to concentrate on educating the public.

Home and business owners who attract the animals by leaving garbage strewn about their properties can now face fines.

At north Vancouver’s Princess Park, where bears have been spotted, conservation officer Mike Peters said resources are being taxed, adding that the region has the greatest concentration of bears in the province.

“This is the busiest since I started my job in 1990,” he said. “The north shore of Vancouver is a great place for people to live and it is a perfect place for bears to live. There is huge access to unnatural food like garbage, and there are many salmon streams and berries, too.”

The organising committee of the 2010 Olympics is aware that some venue sites are within bear territory. Cypress Mountain, in west Vancouver, will host freestyle skiing, while 123km to the north, the Whistler ski resort will host the Nordic and sliding centres. Both have large bear populations.

“We are currently managing wildlife to protect contractors,” said Renee Smith-Valade of the 2010 organising committee, adding that visitors to the Games themselves should have no problems.

“The areas we are building in are so busy with construction vehicles, and animals will either be moved or choose to move.”—Sapa-AFP

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