CATALINA, N.L. — Newfoundland wildlife officers are defending their decision to kill a polar bear, but a witness says the situation was poorly managed.
The bear was spotted Saturday near Catalina, N.L., and conservation officers say they tried to capture it alive but eventually turned to live ammunition because it ventured too close to bystanders.
"Only in instances of immediate public safety risk, will conservation officers decide the action of animal dispatch must be taken," the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources said in a written statement Monday.
It blamed weather conditions that prevented officers from using a helicopter to tranquilize the bear, and an inability to move the bear away from bystanders.
The risk was deemed immediate after the officers failed to scare the bear into their trap with rubber bullets and it "rapidly moved closer to houses and bystanders."
Brandon Collins, who said he witnessed the scene, said on Facebook that officers looked as though they didn't have the bear's best interest in mind.
"The officers should of stopped firing but they didn't, they kept firing and it just pissed the bear off because he had nowhere to go," he wrote.
In a thread on Facebook, Jean Knowles said the wildlife officers were too ready "to accept the inevitability of the animal’s death, rather than relocation."
"The Little Catalina incident could have been handled much, much better — especially the circumstance that led to rubber bullets being used to drive a bear toward conservation officers and not toward open water," she wrote.
Neil King, a Catalina resident who represents the area in the provincial legislature, said it was "a very difficult situation," but insisted officers acted appropriately.
"They followed policy, and they did everything they could to save that animal," he said during a phone interview.
Polar bear sightings are common at this time of year along the coast of northeastern Newfoundland, where the large predators follow seals headed south on ice floes.
Last week, a more fortunate polar bear was airlifted away from St. Brendan's, N.L. after he wandered too close to the community.
Wildlife officers were able to use a helicopter to help tranquilize the bear before relocating him further north.
— By Kieran Leavitt in Halifax
The Canadian Press