A short video of a polar bear apparently patting a dog in Northern Canada quickly went viral this weekend, with exclamations of glee from animal lovers. But the CBC unraveled the dark truth of the video – and what really happens when people interfere with the natural behaviours of wildlife.
A man in Churchill, Manitoba, was admittedly regularly feeding the polar bears (and taking money from tourists for a chance to see it), and had multiple dogs chained outdoors on his property. The popular video clip purported to show a happy relationship between at least one bear and dog.
But what the video didn’t show was the ramifications of feeding and allowing wildlife and domestic animals to interact: death.
CBC reported that three bears were “removed” and one dog was killed last week.
"Conservation officers had to immobilize a bear in that area last week and move it to the holding facility because it killed one of [the land owner’s] dogs," a provincial official told the CBC. "A mother and cub were also removed because there were allegations the bears were being fed and the females' behaviour was becoming a concern."
The landowner admitted that the night his dog was killed by the bear was one of the few nights he hadn’t actively fed the polar bears – and seemed, angry and resentful that the bear had been so ungrateful as to eat his dog. But this should not be surprising: the bears had been taught to expect food at this property at a certain time – and they quite likely saw the sled dog as their next meal.
This is an extreme example of why The Fur-Bearers, and many other wildlife advocates, from rehabilitators to government officials, strongly state that feeding wildlife leads to conflict. The behaviour of animals was altered by human behaviour, and the consequences were disastrous. While the landowner may face financial penalty for his actions, it will not undo the removal of three endangered bears from the landscape (it is unclear if they were killed or relocated), or the dog, who are dead from a series of events stemming from his poor choices.
It also reminds us to question what we see in viral internet videos that appeal to our desire to anthropomorphize wildlife: in most cases the whole story, all the circumstances, and certainly all of the consequences, can’t be revealed in a 20-second clip with a catchy headline.
It is also, sadly, a reason to question what we see in some videos that are meant to appeal to our desire to see ourselves in wildlife: the whole story, all the circumstances, and all the consequences, can’t be revealed in a 20-second clip set to music.
The Fur-Bearers will mourn the tragic death of a dog, as well as investigate if the three polar bears were killed, or are being kept in unnatural confinement somewhere. And we will continue to tell animal lovers that feeding wildlife can do much more harm than good – even if you don’t see it yourself.