News » Whistler

Bear birth control proposed for Jeanie

Garbage and human behaviour still the primary issue



Everybody in Whistler knows Jeanie.

The large dark brown bear with the tan V on her chest and the many cubs she has born are followed like a soap opera in the columns of the local papers.

And the teenage bear has even starred on the silver screen when the BBC used her for their documentary In the Company of Bears.

Perhaps that is why an idea under discussion by the Get Bear Smart Society of Whistler to put Jeanie on birth control is raising so many eyebrows.

“I don’t think the risk is that great and I think it may save her life in the long-term,” said the society’s executive director, Sylvia Dolson.

The birth control, known as immunosterilization, is given by injection and lasts between one and five years. If administered it would be the first time in Canada it has been used on a wild bear.

Dolson said it is being considered for Jeanie because whenever she has cubs she comes into town in the fall to forage in garbage and gets herself and her cubs into trouble.

The reasons she ventures into the resort are varied. It can be lack of food on the mountain, competition from other bears, and competition for her grazing area from human activity.

Last year during bear season it wasn’t unusual for conservation officers to get 20 to 30 calls a day about bears, and they destroyed 13 conflict bears. Numbers that high hadn’t been seen since the 1990s.

This is not an end Dolson wants for Jeanie or her cubs, or for any bear for that matter.

“She is only getting into trouble when she has cubs and other times she stays on (Whistler) Mountain, so perhaps this would work to keep her out of conflict,” said Dolson.

“This would be an experiment on one individual bear based on a known conflict history of that individual. I want to make clear that it is not something we are thinking of on a population level to control conflict. It is a one-off experiment.”

Dolson has brought the idea to the B.C. Ministry of the Environment through a bear-working group. Ministry spokeswoman Kate Thompson said: “It is an experimental vaccine and we don’t have enough information on it in its use on bears so we wouldn’t be able to endorse its use.

“But we are certainly going to be interested to see what develops with the research in other jurisdictions.”