When Staff Sgt. Grant Learned told reporters that police officers attended when the kermode bear went missing from B.C. Wildlife Park, it seemed like a joke.
Who would steal a kermode?
As events transpired, the newest resident of the wildlife park turned out to be more wily than expected, and he managed to get out on his own.
Still, the possibility of a spirit bear theft is not as silly as it seems. That bear has a dollar value.
Wildlife park general manager Glenn Grant predicts "busloads of tourists" will come to see Clover once he's in a public display area. He has big plans for a habitat and interpretive area that could easily cost half a million dollars or more - and expects to have no trouble at all raising money for it.
Between paying visitors and cash from sponsors, we're looking at a bear that's worth more than a million dollars.
To a get an idea of what we're looking at, consider the reception two giant pandas received when they arrived for a 10-year stay at a zoo in Australia.
"The pandas can be expected to generate $632 million for the state economy over the 10 years," said Chris West, chief of Zoos South Australia.
"Each year (the pandas) could generate significantly more economic benefits than the much-vaunted appearances by golfer Tiger Woods or cyclist Lance Armstrong." (Of course, he said this before Armstrong's fall from grace. Woods, meanwhile, has been making a comeback with fans.)
For more a local comparison, think of when Shania Twain came to Kamloops during her heyday and sold out a concert within 10 minutes. Clover will do more for the economy than Shania ever could.
So, yes, the only spirit bear in captivity does have great value. Obviously, we'd notice if he was stolen and showed up at another wildlife park. But who's to say a rich, private collector might not want to get his hands on the bear?
And given the great symbolism of the spirit bear to many environmental groups, a theft and release would be a huge - and profitable - coup for one of them.
We've got a bear who's worth his weight in gold. Let's ensure his stay in Kamloops is safe and protected as much as possible from those who would exploit him.
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