A photo of people feeding a black bear on an Alberta highway is making the rounds on social media, and Parks Canada is warning people it's never OK to feed bears.
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Wildlife photographer Jeff Bingham posted the photo to his Facebook page on May 19 and it has since been shared more than 8,000 times. In the post, Bingham says the incident happened near the north gate to Banff National Park where drivers were throwing wieners, pepperoni sticks and bread to the bear.
"The bear was just very accommodating, because he was right there eating and he kept looking up at them for more," said Bingham. "I think they realized that people were starting to take note of what was going on so they rolled that window up and turned their vehicle on, and then the bear came around to the driver's side and it was standing there, looking at them.
"Then the guy rolled his window down, reached out and took a picture of the bear with his iPhone and they drove off."
Parks Canada is still trying to confirm whether the incident took place inside Banff National Park.
Brianna Burley with Parks Canada said bears are often seen on the side of the road this time of year because it's one of the areas to green up first, but cautions it's never OK to feed bears.
'This isn't good, by any means.'- Brianna Burley, Parks Canada
"People are naturally curious about these animals and rightfully so — it's so cool to see them," said Burley. "It's OK for people to stop and take a picture and carry on. Where we get the trouble is where people aren't just taking a photo and moving on."
Bear may have history with human food
If the incident did take place in Banff, Parks Canada officials say it's likely a black bear they tagged last summer after it was seen around a campground near Icefields Parkway.
If the bear is returning to bad habits and eating human food, Burley said that could spell big trouble.
"Once a bear has gotten into human food, it starts down that road of food conditioning where it starts to make that association with people and food reward. That's where the danger comes in, because bears start getting closer and closer to people because in the past they've been able to get food from that. This isn't good, by any means."
Parks Canada crews will be monitoring the area where the incident is believed to have taken place over the coming weeks.
"We'll be looking to see is it in campgrounds? On the off chance, are we going to catch somebody else feeding it? Has it gotten into the habit of approaching cars, because it's been fed so many times? We'll be looking for that before we can make any management decisions ... But it's tough to reverse."