In the latest please-stop-getting-close-to-wildlife news, a bear that went viral after hikers posed for selfies with it has been caught and castrated by veterinarians. Needless to say, some people are pretty outraged by the wildlife authority’s reaction, while others have said the story should serve as a cautionary tale about why you should always keep a respectful distance from wildlife.
The black bear, a young male weighing approximately 96 kilograms (211 pounds), went viral last month after someone filmed the animal approaching a group of hikers and even sniffing one woman's hair in Mexico's Chipinque Ecological Park. Many saw the video as a display of anthropomorphic cuteness, but it became apparent the so-called “selfie bear” had become worryingly comfortable with the presence of humans, which was likely a response to being fed by people in the national park.
This can, quite obviously, become a danger to humans, but it can also cause real issues for the bear.
“[Feeding bears] transforms wild and healthy animals into habitual beggars. Studies have shown that panhandling animals have a shorter lifespan. Beggar animals may die from ingesting food packaging. Many animals have died a slow and agonizing death from eating plastics and other materials. Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers,” the US National Park Service says on its website.
After becoming aware of the bear’s “friendly” nature, officials from the Mexican Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) and other wildlife authorities managed to catch the animal and give it a quick health check. However, it later transpired that veterans also performed a castration, removing the bear’s testicles, before it was released back into the wild.
PROFEPA has released a statement saying that the decision to castrate the bear was taken after consultation and authorization from Dr Martín Vargas Prieto, director-general of Inspection and Surveillance of Wildlife, Marine Resources, and Coastal Ecosystems at PROFEPA. Dr Prieto argued the castration was required to stop the bear reproducing, possibly giving rise to more individuals being more inclined to approach humans. He also said it would reduce the chance of conflict it might receive from other bears after spending time with people.
The castration of the “selfie bear” has been branded by some on social media as heavy-handed and cruel. However, it’s not totally out of line to the way other environmental authorities deal with this kind of situation. In many instances, wild animals are euthanized if they’re seen becoming comfortable with humans.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a black bear was photographed in North Carolina with a "Trump 2020" sticker slapped on its tracking collar. Conservationists and scientists strongly condemned this "troubling incident," adding that "whoever has done this has helped this bear become food dependent. Doing so has put both public safety and the bear at risk."