Penned grizzly kills wolf in front of onlookers
Kept together in enclosure for stimulation, captive-bred wolf lost fight with bear over a bone
Friday, May 27, 2005
NORTH VANCOUVER - An experiment in captive wildlife management went tragically wrong Tuesday evening when a grizzly bear killed a timber wolf in front of about 25 spectators at the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife.
According to refuge managing director and veterinarian Ken Macquisten, the wolf, one of four captive-born grey wolves that were rejected for use in the movie industry, had found a bone in the two-hectare enclosure that they had shared for a week with two orphaned four-year-old male grizzlies.
One of the grizzlies, 300-kilogram Grinder, tried to take the bone away from him, and when the wolf resisted, the bear struck him.
"The other wolves tried to chase Grinder off," Macquisten said, "but he bit the fallen wolf in the neck and killed him. The whole thing probably took about 15 seconds."
Macquisten had placed the wolves and bears in the same enclosure 10 days ago hoping they would provide continuous stimulation for each other. Prior to that they had occupied separate but adjacent enclosures.
"One of the biggest challenges of caring for captive bears and wolves is boredom," Macquisten said.
"In the woods, they need their wits to survive. So what provides interest is the presence of another species they can't quite figure out, but are constantly trying to."
He said wolves and European brown bears have been kept successfully in German and Swedish zoos for years, and he hoped to duplicate that success on Grouse Mountain.
But Paul Paquet, a wolf behaviour specialist with the University of Calgary, said while he applauds Macquisten's attempt to provide the animals with enrichment, "the outcome was predictable."
"Wolves and bears do get along in the proper environment, but they also are competitive, and that competition is usually around a particular resource, like food," Paquet said. "There is an antipathy there, and it's a natural antipathy because they're competitors."
He also suspects that because the wolves were captive-born, they may not be as savvy as fully wild wolves, and therefore may not have realized the danger they were in.
A representative of a local animal-protection group that opposed the idea of keeping bears and wolves together when Macquisten proposed it last summer, also said he wasn't surprised by the death.
"These animals are not in a natural environment," said Bruce Passmore of the Vancouver Humane Society. "They are un-naturally stressed by the presence of humans and the limitations of their captivity.
"Compound this by putting two major predators in a small enclosure together, and we have a recipe for disaster."
After the death, the refuge separated the wolves and bears into two one-hectare enclosures. "They will remain that way for the foreseeable future," Macquisten said.
He also said the death should in no way affect a commitment by the B.C. Liberals to donate $400,000 to the District of North Vancouver to build a rehabilitation centre for black bears -- a centre that Macquisten and the refuge would operate and manage.
"They are two completely separate issues," Macquisten said.
A number of wildlife rehabilitators in the province have criticized that commitment saying the money should be given to existing rehabilitation facilities instead.
Angelika Langen, a European-trained animal keeper, agreed . "It is absolutely crazy to put wolves and bears together in one area. They're both hunters."
Langen also insisted there is no evidence grizzlies and wolves can co-exist in the same pen.
She said that in Europe, brown bears are penned with wolves, but grizzlies are not.
"Why did they do this? That's the prime question," Langen said.
Tourists watching the two grizzlies play at Grouse yesterday said they were saddened to hear of the fate of the wolf.
"It's very disappointing to hear what happened," said Roger Deacon, who was visiting from England. "I wouldn't have thought they'd mix the two."
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© The Vancouver Province 2005