A petition to have Clover the kermode bear returned to the wild is attracting all kinds of support, from an offer of free helicopter time to an urgent appeal from a South African wildlife trust.
Ruth Madsen, a Kamloops environmentalist, posted the petition a week ago through an online platform.
"Today, I'll reach 500 on the petition, and with every signature on the site, Mr. Lake gets a letter from Change.org.," Madsen said on Wednesday, referring to Environment Minister Terry Lake.
The petition states that there are possibly as few as 400 kermode or spirit bears - a subspecies of ursus americanus, the black bear - remaining and that they are endangered.
"Many groups feel this has put a price on their heads, as the manager of the zoo has admitted this bear is worth more than a million dollars to the park," the appeal reads.
Ian McAllister, who lives on Denny Island on the central coast, near Kermode habitat, agrees with that contention. McAllister is a co-founder of Pacific Wild, a conservation organization and helped spearhead protection of the Great Bear Rainforest.
"I think it sets a really dangerous precedent in how wildlife management is done here in B.C.," McAllister said. "Changes in protocols can be made and we see this with bear management."
Having worked with spirit bears for 20 years, McAllister is convinced the bear can be successfully released back into his habitat.
"The minister and the B.C. government seem to have boxed themselves in on this issue instead of looking at options," he said. "Clearly, with Clover, this is a huge amount of public outrage."
Madsen said she began networking as soon as she heard of the bear's arrival at B.C. Wildlife Park last month. Clover was brought to the park by Angelika Langen, who operates the Northern Lights wildlife shelter in Terrace.
When an attempt to re-introduce the animal to the wild failed, a permanent sanctuary was preferable to euthanization. Euthanization is standard practice when a bear can't be set free.
"First Nations, they had no idea," Madsen said. "They know Clover, of course, because Clover was collared (with an electronic tracking device). His mother was poached and that's how he would up having a collar.
"The thing is, the spirit bear is very special to people in B.C. For that reason alone, a spirit bear should never be in a zoo."
She suggested commissioning an independent study to determine whether release is viable.
Lake, also Kamloops-North Thompson MLA, said he understands the concern but three large-carnivore biologists with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations were consulted about the likelihood of Clover surviving in the wild.
He said he is willing to listen to people, but that ultimately, the decision-making responsibility lies with the minister responsible, Steve Thomson.
"I'm not an aficionado of zoos and keeping animals just for the sake of displaying them," he said. "For me, this is the best situation for the bear. It will be able to live out its life."
Meanwhile, an update on the Northern Lights website explains Langen's dilemma: "The policies are very clear, rehabbed bears that come close to humans and get recaptured get shot. We accepted those terms when we were granted permission to rehab bears in B.C. We are grateful that his fur colour granted him a different option."
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