What seemed like an innocent birthday outing for Berkley, a kodiak bear, has landed a Canadian zoo in trouble with government officials.
Discovery Wildlife Park officials decided to celebrate Berkley’s first birthday with a trip to a nearby drive-thru Dairy Queen.
In a video posted on Facebook she could be seen leaning happily out of the car’s window devouring a soft serve out of the restaurant manager’s hand.
But once the video was posted the park began to receive criticism.
An investigation by the Environment and Parks Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch then resulted in a fine.
Serena Bos, a bear trainer at the wildlife park, said the original message of the outing was intended to be about conservation.
The park regularly focuses on bear safety and they decided a video educating people not to feed wild bears would be a good idea.
“We thought if we were to do something in the natural setting of the park then people might get the idea that feeding a wild bear was a good idea,” she said.
“So we thought if it was kind of that extreme, something nobody would ever do, it wouldn’t give the wrong message.
“Unfortunately … it was still twisted and taken out of context.”
But Ms Bos said the park accepted the fine, because in the end it was their own human error that resulted in the investigation.
“The reason we were fined is because we failed to notify special wildlife that we were taking an animal off the property,” she said.
There is no rule against taking a bear off the park’s property, nor any animal for that matter, however there are strict rules that stipulate authorities must be notified.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a bear or a guinea pig or if it’s a mouse – we have to notify them,” she said.
“And yes we did have human error and we forgot to send our email notifying our authorities that yes we were taking an animal off the property.”
The park has since deleted both the drive-thru video and another video showing Berkley eating an ice cream cake.
Are the regulations too strict?
Ms Bos said the park “100 per cent” accepted the charges and did not believe the regulations were in any way too strict.
In fact she said they were thankful that the authorities fined them and held them accountable.
“It shows the public in … Canada that our regulations are extremely strict and that the animals here are held in the highest respect and have the highest welfare,” she said.
“In fact … not only did they inspect the situation but we asked for a fully-fledged inspection of our facility, which they did come and do as well.
“That was something we requested just because we felt that it’s beneficial for the public to know that we are inspected and that there are authorities making sure we are giving these animals the utmost respect and care that they deserve and require.”
Ms Bos was adamant that when planning Berkley’s ice cream outing they considered both the safety of the bear and the general public.
“We would never do anything that would ever jeopardise anybody’s safety,” she said.
Berkley is just a cub, and has been raised by staff at the wildlife park.
Ms Bos said riding in a vehicle is an everyday activity for Berkley, as she is driven to different sections daily so she can have play time.
“So it wasn’t something that she would ever be stressed out from,” she said.
“As far as safety goes for the public she was in the truck the entire time, she never left the truck.”
Berkley was also on a bear version of a leash — a chain — for the whole trip.
‘Not meant to be a stunt’
Wildlife protection organisations have called the outing completely irresponsible, but Ms Bos said they did not plan for it to be “a stunt”.
She said for them it was another part of Berkley’s training for “enrichment purposes”.
“Training is considered to be the highest form of enrichment you can give an animal in captivity, it creates brain function no different than you and I going to school or having a job,” she said.
“They truly enjoy doing different things.”
A lot of the training animals get given is for their medical benefit – bears get trained to pee in a cup and for blood draws, so if they have a medical issue vets can easily test them.
“They’re trained to give you their blood samples so we don’t have to sedate them for simple things like that,” she said.
“And it really does increase their quality of life.
“Even training them to open their mouth big and wide, we can make sure we’re doing regular tooth checks to make sure there’s no problems, because animals get those just like humans do.
“In fact we had a jaguar that had his canine tooth broken, he required a root canal and we would have never known if he wasn’t trained to open his mouth and do his daily checks.
“We even had to brush the jaguar’s tooth after the root canal, which again had they not been trained that’s not something we would have been able to.”
Would they take a bear out for ice cream again?
Ms Bos said they would definitely do something similar again, but probably not exactly the same.
“It wasn’t taken the way … we wanted it to be taken,” she said.
“The goal was to educate people and for it to be taken a specific way — no we wouldn’t do it exactly the same.”