Crime and punishment: bear killed for our mistake

A mother is dead, her two cubs are being sent to live out their days in a zoo, and we may never have all the answers to what happened to a hiker earlier this month in Yellowstone National Park. But that won’t stop us from asking questions.

We first must express our deepest sympathy to the family of the deceased, 63-year-old Lance Crosby, whose body was found last Friday, at least half a mile (0.8 km) away from the nearest trail. Reports have indicated that Crosby was a nurse who worked at the park and is believed to have been alone and without bear spray or other defensive mechanisms at the time of his death.

But our empathy for the loss of a human life does not necessitate the taking of a non-human life. Scientific and ethical heavy hitter Dr. Marc Bekoff took on this topic and the words from Yellowstone’s official media release in his Psychology Today blog yesterday.

“Appealing to the notion of ‘sound science’ is a decoy that might make some people think that science supports killing the bears, and it would be nice to know how killing these bears will protect humans in the future,” wrote Bekoff. “Just where are the data that support the idea that killing animal suspects who are responsible, orthoughtto be responsible, is the remedy for thevery rareoccurrences of killing humans in Yellowstone? I surely can't find any support for this claim, and the database hardly seems large enough to draw any meaningful conclusions that are often used as excuses to kill the suspects.”

Bekoff is joined by many others in the ranks of science, advocacy and even photography following the killing of the bear, calling for more discussion and questioning the actions of the park managers.

Blaze, as the murdered bear was dubbed by those who knew her over her 20-years, had no known history of conflict with people in the park, and was primarily seen caring for her two young cubs. These cubs, who were born in the wild and have spent their short lives exploring the magnificent Yellowstone National Park, will now live out their days in a Toledo zoo.

We are left questioning everything – from the lack of detective work establishing what led to the conflict between a bear and Crosby, to why a world-renowned anthrozoologist like Dr. Bekoff is the one to point out the lack of scientific merit for the claims of managers at the park.

What we do know, with absolute certainty, is that two families will never be the same. And we will never, ever, stop asking for those responsible for our wildlife to do better.

NOTE: The bear seen in the photo accompanying this blog is not Blaze.

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