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GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION: Do ‘wild’ animals that allegedly attack people need to be killed?

The bear’s death was decried by some observers as an unjust sentence for an animal that may have been acting defensively. Capital punishment for the animal, and sometimes even for uninvolved animals nearby.

KARIN BRULLIARD: A marathon runner who was mauled by a bear in New Mexico thought quickly, played dead and escaped injured, but alive. The female bear, which wildlife officials said was with her cubs when she was surprised by the runner, was captured and put to death. New Mexico officials said they were confident they had the right bear, which wore a radio collar, and noted with regret that state law requires them to euthanize and test for rabies any wild animal that attacks or bites a person, no matter the circumstances.

The bear’s death was decried by some observers as an unjust sentence for an animal that may have been acting defensively. And it was the latest such killing to highlight the common reaction to most of the very rare attacks by wild animals on people in the United States: Capital punishment for the animal, and sometimes even for uninvolved animals nearby…

The justice system for wild animal attackers varies across jurisdictions, and sometimes by species. But there’s no Innocence Project for animals, and generally no trials (though some national parks have approaches that amount to something like that). Instead, the prevailing idea, experts say, is that human safety is paramount, and if a wild animal attacks once, it might do it again…

How do we know that? There’s not a lot of statistical support, but experts say the anecdotal evidence is pretty strong. To consider it, it helps to put attacking animals in two broad categories: The so-called maneaters that seek out humans as prey, and those that attack for other reasons, when they find themselves in the same area as people… But there’s no research to back that up, for a decent reason…

Wildlife officials in the United States often describe bears and other problem animals as “food-conditioned” – so used to getting snacks directly from people or their trash that they seek them out, increasing the likelihood of a bloody human-animal encounter. They may have lost some fear of humans, but they haven’t lost their instincts… Some studies and data, most involving bears, back that up. Biologists have studied whether food-conditioned bears inherit their taste or learn it from their mothers, but the results are mixed…

“We don’t euthanize bears just for getting in trash when that’s all they’re doing,” Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, told The Associated Press last year, after officials at Lake Tahoe euthanized a black bear. “But that conflict behavior escalates from tipping over trash cans to breaking into homes, and that’s when we have to euthanize them.” This cycle has spawned a motto in the wildlife world: A fed bear is a dead bear…

Chris Servheen, the Montana-based grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said some bear attacks are deemed natural aggression. They occur when a bear is startled or defending its cubs or food. Those bears aren’t euthanized, Servheen said, pointing to case of a hiker who was fatally mauled after accidentally surprising a bear and her cubs in 2011… But a bear is a predator, right – isn’t trying to eat a human the very definition of natural? Servheen said no: The bears that attack humans are the outliers.

To some observers, it’s never right to kill wild animals that attack people. “The reason for letting these animals live, including presumed man-eaters, is that they were doing what comes naturally to them, as horrific and sad as the results of their tragic attacks are,” Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, wrote in Psychology Today in 2012. SOURCE…

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