A Central Alberta zoo is being investigated by the Province after a video of a captive bear eating ice cream in a Dairy Queen drive-thru went viral.
Discovery Wildlife Park, located north of Innisfail, AB, posted the video of a 151 lbs. Alaskan Kodiak brown bear —Berkley — reaching her head through a pick-up truck to eat an ice cream cone out of the hands of the restaurant owner.
Brendan Cox, communications advisor for the Justice and Solicitor General, said in a release, that public safety is a top priority for the Government of Alberta.
“The content of the video in question is very concerning,” the release stated. “Both Environment and Parks and the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch are actively investigating this incident. The involvement of Discovery Wildlife Park in this matter is also subject to investigation.”
According to Mark Kemball, owner of the Innisfail Dairy Queen, the video was created over an hour before opening with his consent.
“I’ve come in contact with dogs a whole lot scarier than that (bear),” he said.
Rob Laidlaw of the national organization Zoocheck said it was clear the video wasn’t a good idea, even if the video’s intent was to provide educational information on conservation.
“I think they may have had the best of intentions — I don’t know — but in terms of what I heard they were hoping to achieve, it was really a ridiculous way to try to do that,” Laidlaw said.
Even if the mesage is to not feed bears in the wild, the visual image of the bear eating the ice cream is the only image people will remember, according to Laidlaw.
“It will get a message out there that is completely contrary to the one they stated they want to achieve because if you look at the social-science around viewing animals, you find typically whatever narrative you provide is overridden by the visual,” he said.
Laidlaw said the bear being intentionally brought out of its enclosure presents a danger to humans.
“They should have emergency protocols in place, but when you take an animal offsite, all that goes out the window. It opens everything up to all sorts of other things like if a handler loses control of the animal and it runs off,” he said. “There are various scenarios that are beyond the control of a handler once they are off site.”
Laidlaw said other zoos like the Toronto Zoo, the Valley Zoo in Edmonton, the Calgary Zoo and others have protocols that prevent animals from being taken offsite.
“They have protocols in place individually, as organizations and legislatively,” he said.
The Government’s release stated that Discovery Wildlife Park has a permit “authorizing them to possess and display wildlife and controlled animals.”
“Under the terms of the permit, Discovery Wildlife Park is required to adhere to the Wildlife and Controlled Animal Transportation Standards contained within the Zoo Standards.”
Laidlaw added if an animal escapes its handlers, either onsite or off, it puts first reponders in a difficult position.
“You typically get first responders who are not well versed in handling these animals, so if there is anything they view as potentially dangerous to the public — they often kill the animal,” he said. “That has happened here in Ontario. Police don’t understand the behaviour of the bear and the bear gets needlessly shot.”
In the overall picture, Laidlaw said the bear eating ice cream isn’t the most serious issue regarding wildlife in activity but it is still serious.
“The government should have a look at this to make sure they aren’t taking potentially dangerous animals offsite in the future,” he said. “Hopefully they won’t. Hopefully they have learned from this.”
The Government release stated the investigation is ongoing.
“We will take the needed time to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation. If non-compliance is found, the appropriate enforcement action will be taken.”
The Government also stated, “We would like to remind members of the public not to feed or approach wildlife. Human-bear conflicts can arise when the animal learns to associate people with food.”
Several requests have been made by the Red Deer Express to Discovery Wildlife Park to provide comment. This story will be updated if the organization chooses to do so.