Black bear safari business 'asinine,' biologist says
Company endorsed by Department of Tourism, but hand-feeding wild bears 'crazy,' says expert
A black bear observation business in Acadieville, N.B., that's being promoted by the provincial Department of Tourism, is coming under fire by a wildlife biologist.
Richard Goguen gets face-to-face with wild bears as part of his Little, Big Bear Safari.
He feeds the bears meat, apples and nuts, while people watch from a viewing tower, 14 metres off the ground.
"I don't encourage people to do this around their house," said Goguen.
"I'm doing this since 18 years, and I have all my fingers and all my feet and my head is on my shoulders and all that. So I've been through a lot of stuff with bears. I know what to do and what not to do."
But Graham Forbes, a wildlife biologist with the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, contends even if someone thinks they know what they're doing, interacting with a bear could be deadly.
"By giving them food hand to face, it's crazy, it's asinine," Forbes said.
"Dealing with animals that have claws and teeth, and anytime you habituate something that's designed like that, it could go very badly for the human."
The Department of Natural Resources says it's not illegal to feed animals, but it does warn against the practise.
"You should never feed a bear, as the animal will then associate people with food, and may become a problem," the department advises on its website.
"Once a bear becomes accustomed to receiving food from people, its aggressiveness can lead to personal injuries or property damage. Once this occurs, the animal is either relocated to an unfamiliar environment where its chance of survival decreases, or it is destroyed."
But Goguen says his business got approval from the department.
"The DNR head one come over, and we had a biologist come over, and they said, 'You're doing a good job, because nobody interacts with bears and you're the only one and you don't have a choice, because you're feeding them, you put food and they would be around you,'" he said.
'Bear-viewing holiday at its best'
The province's Department of Tourism is even using his business to promote New Brunswick as a tourist destination, said Goguen.
"A bear-viewing holiday at its best, with the fastest-growing outdoor adventure in New Brunswick. A holiday experience like no other," the department's website states.
No one from the Department of Natural Resources was available for an interview on Monday, but spokesman Steve Benteau said the department is not involved with the safari business, and the company is not violating any regulations.
Goguen says his attachment to bears started in 1999, when a three-month-old orphaned cub adopted him as a parent.
Over the years, that bear introduced her own cubs to Goguen.
He said he doesn't worry he's conditioning the bears to expect food from humans.
"They don't depend at all on the food I gave them to survive, oh no, no, no. They are always looking for food."