Loss and Hope in the Tale of Two Cubs
On Thursday, May 12, a mother bear was shot dead in Newtown, leaving behind two baby cubs. As of this writing, the off-duty Ridgefield police officer, who allegedly shot the bear, has been placed on paid administrative leave as the local agency conducts its own, internal investigation. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)’s law enforcement division is also conducting its own investigation into the circumstances of the shooting.
The bear, affectionately known as “Bobbi,” was well-known in the neighborhood and had a social media page created for her with photos of her frequent sightings. She was killed on the officer’s property in Newtown. It is illegal to kill bears in Connecticut except in specific circumstances defined in state statutes, such as self defense. First-time offenders may face a $500 fine or up to 30 days in prison.
Initially, DEEP had intended to leave the young, orphaned cubs in the area to fend for themselves. However, due to the outpouring of concern for their safety* and the urging to have the cubs taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center – in addition to similar pressure from state legislators and animal advocacy organizations on the scene – prompted DEEP to change course. After a hectic weekend search, the scared cubs were found up in a tree. DEEP was able to capture them and they were subsequently transported to the Kilham Bear Center, a licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization in New Hampshire where they are being cared for with the intent of eventual release. Media reports indicated that upon capture, the cubs weighed less than had been previously thought, casting doubt on whether or not they would have survived on their own. It will be up to DEEP whether or not they will be returned to Connecticut for release.
The killing of this mother bear is an irreplaceable loss, not only to her two cubs, but also to the ecosystem. Black bears are a keystone species, meaning that they influence other forms of life within that ecosystem. They are important seed dispersers, and their foraging habits aid log decomposition and open forest canopies, allowing more plant growth.
What can you do to help keep bears safe?
Though black bears are naturally shy animals, because of attractants, such as garbage, bird feeders and compost piles, they can be drawn too close to human habitation. Some of the measures that can be taken are:
If you live in an area frequented by bears, take in bird feeders from March through November – and, for those with yards, add birdbaths and introduce native plants. This will not only attract birds and provide the insects needed to feed their nestlings, but native plants also help increase pollinators and improve biodiversity.
Be sure that trash, compost and recyclables are inaccessible, and kept inside until morning of pickup.
Use properly installed and maintained electrical fencing to protect beehives, chickens and livestock.
If you see a bear in your neighborhood or while on a trail, make noise, wave your arms and slowly retreat.
Never approach a bear or get close to take pictures or video.
Bears also need enough habitat in which to live – so it is important to advocate for open space preservation, both in your community and statewide.
The cubs have their best chance for a successful release with the skilled care, training and loving attention they will get at the Kilham Bear Center. To make a donation to the Center, please visit Donate - Kilham Bear Center or mail a check to Kilham Bear Center, P.O. Box 37, Lyme, New Hampshire 03768.
In the meantime, Sierra Club Connecticut will be closely monitoring the issue as more information about the investigation becomes available. Hopefully, the public awareness raised from this tragic incident will lead to an increased understanding of how to be “bear aware” – educated as to effective, non-lethal measures people and communities can take towards peaceful co-existence.
To learn more and get involved:
Check out our bear flyer for more tips and information.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get free “Coexist Peacefully With Bears” stickers.
Join us for an educational webinar on Wednesday, June 22: Black Bear Killing in Newtown: A Teaching Moment for CT.
*Many thanks to the Newtown community (and beyond), Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, Newtown ACO Carolee Mason, town police and first responders, CT Coalition to Protect Bears, Rep. David Michel and Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria (co-chairs of the Legislative Animal Advocacy Caucus), Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, Rep. Anne Hughes, Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and all others who aided and/or advocated on behalf of the cubs.
Kathleen Magner is Sierra Club Connecticut’s Wildlife Committee Chair.