Bears now send selfies to Yukon conservation officers when entering traps

Conservation officers in Yukon have a new tool at their disposal: cameras that text photos of bears as they enter live traps. They say the cameras minimize the amount of time a bear has to spend inside a trap before officers arrive to relocate them.

Officers use mobile technology to monitor bears that enter live traps

This picture, showing a bear entering a live trap, was sent to conservation officer Ken Knutson's cellphone recently. The image was taken by a motion-sensor camera with cellphone technology. (Ken Knutson)

Yukon conservation officers can now get photos of bears entering live traps sent to their mobile phones.

"It's basically like receiving a WhatsApp photo or a texted photo,"  said Ken Knutson, a conservation officer in Whitehorse. The new technology is being used this year by Environment Yukon.

The department has purchased several motion-sensor cameras and installed them near live traps in the Whitehorse and Dawson City areas. So far, according to officers, the cameras have been successful.

"Sometimes we have two or three traps out," said Knutson. "It's nice to be able to get those photos coming in so you know when a bear has been captured," Knutson said.

"With the heat wave of the last couple of weeks, we do not want an animal in one of those cages longer than they absolutely need to be because, of course, it could be very hard on them."

Knutson says the cameras cost about $1,000 each. They also require a wireless data plan. (Ken Knutson)

63 bears killed last year

Wildlife officials say garbage left by humans is still the biggest lure for bears, leading to human-bear conflicts.

Last year, the territorial government estimated that 63 bears were killed in Yukon. Of that number, 39 were killed by conservation officers.

And Knutson said this year conservation officers have been busy relocating bears that have been found wandering in Whitehorse neighbourhoods.

Officers mostly use culvert-style live traps, said Knutson, who added that the cameras really help officers monitor the bears while they prepare to relocate them.

"There is a camera, you see the bear approaching the trap, you see the bear go into the trap and the door close. It's perfect. Then we know it's worth our time heading out there," he said.

"Otherwise, what happens is we have these traps out and we have to check them several times a day."

He said sometimes the traps are set an hour out of town; "then it takes up a substantial portion of our resources that we have."

'We do not want an animal in one of those cages longer than they absolutely need to be,' says conservation officer Ken Knutson. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Knutson said the new cameras are not cheap — costing around $1,000 each. They also require a wireless data plan.

However, he said the cameras will pay for themselves over time.

"We try and keep up with the times," said Knutson. And the cameras could save them money over time "because you didn't have to make that two-hour round trip to see if a trap had been triggered a couple of times a day."

Knutson said cellphone coverage in Yukon is a lot better than it used to be and now in some cases, the cameras can transmit photos an hour out of Whitehorse.