INNISFAIL, Alta. – The province is investigating a video that shows a Kodiak bear from a central Alberta zoo being taken through a fast-food drive-thru and being hand-fed ice cream by the restaurant’s owner.
The video, posted on social media by the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, shows a one-year-old captive bear named Berkley leaning out the driver’s side of a truck’s window for her treat at the local Dairy Queen.
“We’ve got Berkley in the drive-thru testing out some ice cream so she can pick out her birthday cake,” says a man identified as Mark in the video. “We’ve added some peanuts to this batch and she seems to like it — so I think we’ve got a winner here.”
Officials with the province said they are investigating the video and the terms of the zoo’s permit, which is regulated by Alberta Environment and Parks.
“Public safety is a top priority for our government,” said spokesman Brendan Cox. “The content of the video in question is disturbing and both Environment and Parks, and the Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch are actively investigating this incident.
“The involvement of Discovery Wildlife Park in this matter is also subject to investigation. If non-compliance is found, action will be taken.”
Bear experts are calling the video irresponsible and disrespectful.
“It’s a challenge every day out there in our parks and protected areas to try to teach people who are visiting these places or live here in Alberta that we don’t feed wildlife, that we don’t feed bears,” said Kim Titchener, who runs a business called Bear Safety & More.
“We need to conserve and protect them, and respect them.”
Serena Bos, a trainer at Discovery Wildlife Park, said there was no safety concern because the bear was on a chain in the truck the entire time.
“There was never any public present. It was done long before the Dairy Queen even opened,” she said. “Berkley is a captive bear, so not a wild bear in any way.”
Bos said the bear, which is a sub-species of the grizzly bear, came from another facility in the United States and has been well-trained.
“We have put out hundreds of conservation messages on social media over the years,” said Bos, who noted the park uses its animals as ambassadors to get those messages out.
The message in the video with the bruin in the truck is about the importance of staying inside a vehicle when a bear is on the side of the highway because they have a keen sense of smell, she said.
Mark Kemball, owner of the Dairy Queen, said he was never concerned about his safety as he fed the bear.
“This bear is as tame as any animal I have ever seen,” he said. “She is as gentle as can be. She has never been in the wild.”
Kemball added that he was happy to help get the message out about bears.
“Those are bears that can never be released in the wild,” he said. “They (wildlife park) do bear safety. They do education around bears. They do education around wolves. The whole underlying theme of their park is to provide education to the public.
“It does grab people’s attention and then obviously they can try to get their message out.”
A second video posted on social media shows the same bear being fed a Dairy Queen ice-cream cake on its birthday.
Titchener said the videos go against everything experts are trying to teach people about grizzly bears.
“This is not the message that we want to get out there,” she said.
It’s “not part of their natural diet nor is it natural for a bear to be eating an ice-cream cake in the middle of winter when they should be sleeping.”
— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton