The international bear conference concluded this evening with a parting blessing from Larry Merculief, who passed on some advice from the elders as the last presentation wrapped up, the banners came down and the booths and tables of the Dena’ina Convention Center were dismantled and trundled off to the back room to await their next event.
As the escalator slowly descended, we could watch the graduate students, many of them women, bidding goodbye to their teachers, nearly all of them men. They tell me this organization has changed a great deal over the years, and these rough-and-ready young women are part of that change. Back in the 1960’s when the IBA was founded it was dominated by the big game hunting mentality. But now conservation is much more than lip service. The Safari Club International is still a major sponsor of the IBA, and still chips in for some of the research projects, but it’s nowhere near the influential IBA powerhouse it once was. These days the IBA is an indispensable part of the world’s wildlife conservation efforts, the main technical support when it comes to the IUCN’s handling of bears. But I sense that somewhere deep down, an animus within the IBA still wants to kill things. I actually don’t have a problem with this.
When it comes to bears, it may be that killing still has to be part of the deal. We can start with Kamchatka, where the policy of the Russian government is to simply execute any Brown Bear that causes trouble. Maybe next we go to Honshu, Japan, where defense of life and property led to the killing of 4 thousand Asiatic Black Bears in 2014. Then there is India, where the human casualities inflicted by the dangerous Sloth Bear are absolutely horrifying – 687 maulings and 48 deaths over a period of five years in one state alone. Maybe you’re wondering why you never heard of this. It’s because the people who try to co-exist with this animal area dirt poor and don’t get in the news. The Sloth Bear is not a predator on human beings, but it’s a very aggressive defensive attacker. It has to be. Its enemy is the Tiger.
Closer to home, there’s New Jersey, trying to cope with an exploding population of Black Bears. Wildlife manager Jerod Raithel presented a powerful case today that hunting these bears has been one of the most effective tools to deal with a problem that has loomed to some 27,000 conflicts, and counting.
I could go on, and probably will. But right now I’m quitting. I’m bone tired and my brain is saturated. When it comes to bears and other top predators in the Anthropocene, there will be much more to say.