Revenge Killing of Wildlife is Senseless

By E.M. Fay

Photo by Jim Robertson, Animals in the Wild

Whenever we venture into national parks or other wild lands it is incumbent upon us to inform ourselves beforehand about the wildlife who call the area home. Although Americans generally think of public land as belonging to us all, we should remember that the forests, prairies, and other landscapes we are privileged to visit are the very real homelands of many types of animals, and respect them as such.

This respect should not be so hard to come by considering that most people grasp the concept of human-owned property, and know that they will get into trouble if they just walk boldly into a person’s house unannounced. If we simply apply that idea to the wilderness, we might save wildlife and ourselves much grief.

In late August, a 49-year-old man from San Diego, Richard White, was hiking in Alaska’s Denali National Park when he came upon a male grizzly bear grazing. He stopped to photograph the impressive animal for, what the record shows, was at least eight minutes. Sadly, for both Mr. White and the bear, his actions were upsetting in some way, and the bear eventually lost patience with the intruder and mauled him to death. Officials said this was the first fatal attack in the Park’s history.

Denali Park rules require people to keep at least a quarter of a mile distance between themselves and wildlife. However, Mr. White was far closer, approx. 50 yards from the bear when he photographed him. Had he merely stumbled upon the grizzly and then backed away, perhaps they would both still be alive and well, but he chose to interact with the bear, whether he realized it or not, when he started photographing him.

When surprised at close range, grizzly bears are known to be more dangerous than black bears. But in general, most bears do not want to bother with humans at all. They simply wish to be left alone.

In this case, after Mr. White’s death was discovered by other hikers, his camera was found, and the investigators reported that the photographs show the bear behaving peacefully before the fatal attack.

Park Superintendent Paul Anderson stated, “They show the bear grazing in the willows, not acting aggressive in any form or manner during that period of time.”

In spite of this evidence, state police hunted the bear using a helicopter, shot and killed him. It was determined from the autopsy that it was indeed the same bear who killed Mr. White.

But where is the justification or even the logic in this revenge killing of the grizzly?

Typically, when a human is killed by an animal – be it a bear, a tiger, a shark – the local authorities, as well as any hunters who might be nearby, dash out immediately to search and destroy. Often, they have no idea if they are “punishing” the actual “culprit” or some innocent bystander; and usually, a number of animals are destroyed as “collateral damage.” No thought is given as to the injustice of such actions, let alone considering that the animal was acting in self defense against what was essentially an intruder in his home.

This particular grizzly may well have had a family he was protecting – a family that is now defenseless.

Clearly, our government needs a more enlightened policy. As tragic as a person’s death is, killing an animal for revenge does not revive the deceased human and inflicts undeserved suffering on wildlife. Let’s think rationally. People need to be taught to respect the home territory of all wild animals, whether they are deemed dangerous or not. Trespassing in their habitat should not be done casually, without considering possible consequences. Occasionally a human will pay a price for a foolish choice that he or she has made, but the animal whose home was invaded should not be blamed, and certainly not other animals who also fall victim to “revenge killing.”

E. M. Fay writes about wildlife and the environment.


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