No country for old bears


US Fish & Wildlife Service photo

“Grizzly bear euthanized due to history of conflicts.” “Montana wildlife officials euthanize problem grizzly bear.” “Old grizzly euthanized, tried to get into building.” “Intrusive grizzly euthanized.” “28-year-old grizzly euthanized.”

Those Montana headlines greeted us a few days ago. This must have been one dangerous bear. Intrusive. A “problem bear.” An habitual offender.

Yes, a 28-year-old grizzly has been “euthanized…in response to its [sic] history of conflict and poor physical condition”:

But hang on…we’ll have to go way back to 1988 and ’89 (when Griz was an impulsive juvenile) for that “history of conflict.” Since then–a span of some 25 years–the bear lived within Yellowstone National Park boundaries and “was not involved in any other management conflict actions until the incident this week.” The news release further reveals that the bear was captured after attempting to break into a building containing horse grain in Jardine, MT, a mere stone’s throw from the Yellowstone border. The way I read that, “attempting” to break in means he didn’t actually break in. Can’t we cut the old guy some slack?

But no, Griz had to die. And let’s be clear: This 28-year-old bear was not “euthanized,” he was killed–it makes no difference that the execution occurred at the agency’s state laboratory in Bozeman. I doubt anyone despises the dishonest use of that word more than I do, a euphemism just as frequently used to describe the deaths of young and vital “nuisance” animals–calculated to imbue a killing of convenience with an air of mercy; designed to convince the public that it was for the animal’s own good. FYI, here’s the etymology of “euthanize”: “a gentle and easy death,” from Greek euthanasia “an easy or happy death,” from eu- “good” + thanatos “death.”

This was neither a good nor happy death for a bear whose “history of conflict” amounted to two incidents a quarter century ago. And while his age and physical condition are cited as additional reasons justifying his death, setting up death panels for elderly wildlife is not the state’s job.

“So they killed the bear for being a bear,” posted an online commenter to one of the numerous and unquestioning media regurgitations of the agency’s news release. While grizzlies can live to be 30 in the wild, according to the National Wildlife Federation, most die before age 25. This old soldier might have succumbed to his age and the coming winter anyhow, but how I wish his long life could have ended in his home–the wild environs of Yellowstone–lulled to eternal sleep by the wind and the snow, his body recycled by his neighbors, the scavengers, according to nature’s design. This would have been a good death. The agency laboratory in Bozeman is no country for old bears.

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